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Selling Out and Moving Up (Where does that leave teachers?)

October 31, 2010

Chuck has written an insightful post titled WORKING IN A COAL MINE, which from different messages I have received is how many of us as teachers are feeling. The union contract is being trashed as what is happening at Gompers (a school I came very close to working at but backed out of due to that gut feeling) attests- the school day lengthened with no mention of more pay, or consideration for those with family or school.

My job is also like working in a coal mine, but one that is so far under the ground, no one is paying any attention to it and for that-despite its difficulties- I am extremely grateful. I am also grateful to help to write a small part of a plan for one of the potential small schools, however the “thinness” of the UTLA contract may preclude me from even considering a position there, not that they would want such a rabble rouser as me. Still I am grateful to be able to help shape in a tiny way what will hopefully be a more personalized education for students in South LA and am heartened by the many great former Fremont teachers helping to make it a reality. But it too, may be like “working in a coal mine,” if those who want the thinnest of contracts and few protections for professional teachers get their way.

I urge younger teachers to think about what was fought for by now veteran teachers and think hard about whether you think an “elect to work” agreement is really the savior of the small schools movement. Think about the many ways those with more years and higher salaries could be “elected” right out of your school, especially if the district gets its way with their surprise suggestion at a meeting last week regarding the administrative structure of the small schools.

Then there is our sellout of a union boss who has his eye on moving uptown while teachers twist in the wind. Baltimore teachers are fighting, Mr Duffy, and also the Florida teachers union so what is your excuse?

Is working in a small, deep non-Title 1 coal mine with few meetings, little pressure for test scores but with half a student population under the influence of one substance or another better than the larger coal mines with more resources but being at the mercy of robber barons calling themselves “Dr” and with egos to match? I haven’t decided yet. I’m not sure I ever will. I know I don’t think past the moment anymore, don’t lesson plan and don’t think too hard. I certainly don’t teach.

I wonder though, especially when I get these missives from Chuck about the shenanigans in other schools, if I should be grateful in some way- maybe this is a blessing, because like Chuck, I have issues with keeping my opinions-and emotions- in check. I just wonder if this will be it for my career and I regret that I don’t work with some of my colleagues anymore although at my tiny school I have two wonderful colleagues. Given the economy, I guess I should be grateful for the paycheck, benefits and time off. But somehow, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. I’m a teacher, at least that’s what I trained and practiced to do, but I no longer use my skill, talent or passion in that endeavor. Well Mr. Cortines, I never considered myself part of a “culture of failure,” but thanks to you, I’ve sacrificed true teaching for some measure of personal calm, and little worry that my name will ever turn up in a value -added database. Plus, I can write however I want on my whiteboard. Is it worth it? Hell yes.

CHUCK OLYNYK’S POST: WORKING IN A COAL MINE.

“Working In a Coalmine”

Today is Sunday, October 31, 2010 and Day 125 PF. This summer I heard the
expression used to describe the assault public education is undergoing as “a
perfect storm”. I thought we were there that summer. After all, I was still
looking for a new school, the bitter taste of what happened at the Mont still in
my mouth.

It wasn’t, as Don McLean would put it, “February made me shiver…”, it was
October. And on this day when we seek out that which makes us shiver, here’s a
tale:

I attended my first UTLA meeting at Roosevelt on Thursday, the 28th. To those
that know me, I am not fanatical about union meetings (after all, they occurred
every week at the Mont, and I attended many of those and sported my union red on
Tuesdays. So I was a bit baffled by the concept of a Thursday meeting, a complex
wide meeting (one of the “pizza meetings” I referred to in an earlier post, Day
89 PF, “Rock You Like A Hurricane”—by the way, no pizza, 35 in attendance, kind
of similar to the Mont, where we held our meetings in the cafeteria, but had
people there who just wanted to eat their lunches—or maybe were there for free
pizza).

I guess that the front you are on is the one that dominates your thoughts.
Everything in “The Lord of the Rings” refers to the East in dark tones. Ask a
WWII vet, and it’s either Europe or Pacific theaters. If you’re fighting your
way up the tough old gut of Italy, France is a pipedream and no one gives a damn
about the Eastern Front unless it helps you.

All very understandable. I could never get into UTLA’s emphasis on raising money
to back candidates when we had fires of our own to put out. Far too often, UTLA
leaders came to the school and told teachers not to act. I wasn’t there for all
of it, but I feel that sixteen years makes me part of that family. Far too often
did the folk at Fremont decided that the union leadership was not representing
us and we fought back on our own. I was there for some of that, yeah. Shades of
Rambo from “First Blood” in my head: “All I want is for my country to love me
as much as I love my country.”

And this week, I kept getting messages from people. Someone who used to be at
the Mont telling me the latest at Samuel Gompers Middle School: The famed
“whiteboard configuration” policy begins tomorrow; teachers will solve the
problems of education by having everyone write on their whiteboards in precisely
the same manner: date here, name of teacher here, subject here (I’m just
guessing), what standard is being unpacked here, what the goal is here. I wonder
if there is going to be any room left for writing on the board to convey the
lesson itself. Ah, I forgot, Dr. McKenna has stated on more than one occasion
that teaching is easy, that all you have to do is open the book and teach.

Since everything is supposed to be data-driven, I wonder what data is driving
Dr. McKenna? Perhaps he’d like to share what these educational researchers have
uncovered. Just a suggestion. It would make the whole process seem at least
slightly palatable. Or is the intent to make a class of professionals whom Dr.
McKenna clearly despises gag on the bitterness he’d serve up?

And since Gompers, the school which was being visited by Secretary Arne Duncan
when Superintendent Cortines humiliated the staff at Fremont, is part of the
Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, why is Dr. McKenna even there in the first
place?

“Workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down down down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Whop! about to slip down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down down down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Whop! about to slip down
Five o’clock in the mornin’
I’m all ready up and gone
Lord I am so tired
How long can this go on?”

Then there is more word from Gompers. Even as we discussed in our UTLA meeting
at Roosevelt the misuse of value-added assessment, one of my sources, confirmed
by another, said that Gompers will be serving as a pilot to the use of value
added assessment in evaluation, starting next year. And, starting next semester,
the school day will be lengthened by an hour. Anyone who objects, will be
transferred.

“I’m workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down down down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Whop! about to slip down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down down down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Whop! about to slip down

“Cos I’m on call in the mornin’
Oh I go by the coal
But when Saturday goes around
I’m too tired for havin’ fun (Too tired for having fun)”

What will the leadership of UTLA do at Gompers? Will they show the same support
as they did over at Fremont? Or Locke? And I do know former Locke people, as
well. Wow, my life is starting to feel like something out of WWII, with refugees
from conquered nations, remnants of their armed forces gathering in Britain—I
had to fight the urge when I stood at the UTLA meeting to not say, “Chuck
Olynyk, formerly of Fremont High”.

Then there’s the Jordan Front in Watts. The school which was told on October 8th
that it had four choices (well, three) or suffer reconstitution, but two weeks
later (I mis-spoke in my last post of some 22 days—not good at that counting
thing) were told “write a plan in one month or be reconstituted.

“I been workin’in a coal mine
Goin’ down down down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Whop! about to slip down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down down down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Whop! about to slip down
Lord I am so tired
How long can this go on?”

But all is not lost. This week President Duffy came along with Mr. South Area,
Mat Taylor to speak to the faculty of Jordan. Duffy, as he has stated he prefers
to be called, urged the teachers to write this plan—and that UTLA would back
them.

That sounds sadly familiar.

You see, I was in that UTLA meeting in the Fremont teachers’ cafeteria, where he
and those he brought from “Big UTLA” pretty much dismissed (and fairly publicly,
too) our own elected chapter chair, Maria Gaspar—and pretty much the Fremont
staff. No, not everyone from “Big UTLA” behaved that way; there are folks I do
admire, but our leadership came on that day with the attitude that we in the
trenches knew squat. (Reminds me of the scene in “All Quiet On the Western
Front,” when Paul goes home on leave and his dad’s beer buddies at Fritz’s are
explaining war to Paul) We were urged to write a plan (!?) (which we had already
taken months to write) and that UTLA would back us.

We had our plan. We also fought back. Some handled the paperwork. Some did
community walks. Some organized parents. Some attended UTLA House of Reps
meetings. Some of us attended School Board meetings, even when we were not
provided coverage (health can be such a tricky issue—stress is a factor not to
be dismissed lightly). I blogged, writing some 77,000 words between January and
June, followed by some 60,000 words since June 25th (as a new coworker says, “I
guess you had something to say.”). We had 700 parent and community signatures on
letters, which you could see in the video of the May 11th School Board meeting
http://www.utla.net/node/2668
, when I mention this that Dr. McKenna, pretending to shuffle papers looks up.

The pieces were in place. But we didn’t win. It took us months to write a plan
(I admit I had nothing to do with it, that the “us” is the all-inclusive
variety). Still, the District went ahead. I remember looking at the faces of the
School Board at the point in the video when I lightly tapped the podium (some
say I played Khrushchev there). I saw them look up from their laptops and look
at each other. The information caught them off-guard.

But they never responded to it.

And we had months of fighting we’d been in. More “First Blood”: “And I did what
I had to win! But somebody wouldn’t let us win.”

“I’m workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down down down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Whop! about to slip down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down down down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Whop! about to slip down

Five o’clock in the mornin’
I’m all ready up and gone
Lord I am so tired
How long can this go on?”

Now President Duffy (and I use the title for a purpose here), whose term will be
up next year, who does not possess a CLAD credential in order to return the
classroom (yeah, like anyone since Wayne Johnson, who led us through the strike
in 1989, ever did that) and who has mentioned he would like a job at LAUSD
(someone please correct me, but wasn’t the line something like, “I’d be
perfect—an insider from the union becoming an insider in the district”—please
let me know if I’m misremembering), stood before one of the candidates for his
job, who had also worked at Fremont, and urged “Write a plan.”

This could explain the comment from a teacher at Jordan, who said, “Mr. Duffy,
we appreciate you coming down here, but if you’re going to help us the way you
helped Fremont—no thanks.”

If AJ Duffy is seeking a job with LAUSD, that is one matter. If President Duffy,
who is seeking a job with LAUSD, urges the staff of a school facing the same
threats as one school did months earlier to “write a plan”, then President Duffy
is compromised. If Fremont had several month’s of writing a plan, what sort of
plan will Jordan generate in a month? How well thought out will it be?

For that matter, what guarantee is there that Superintendent Cortines will even
accept it, the same man who stated one set of conditions on October 8th and
another set two weeks later on the 22nd?

“I’m workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down down down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Whop! about to slip down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down down down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Whop! about to slip down

“Cos I’m on call in the mornin’
Oh I go by the coal
But when Saturday goes around
I’m too tired for havin’ fun (Too tired for having fun)

“I been workin’in a coal mine
Goin’ down down down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Whop! about to slip down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down down down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Whop! about to slip down”

Happy Halloween!

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