Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Diogenes struck the father when the son swore.

Picture this – you’re at work, minding your own business, when a co-worker / customer / clerk / other alliterative individual comes up to you out of the blue and says, “Hey, you know what I’d like to do? Punch you really hard in the stomach.” Then this person winds up and does exactly that. Twice. The person then attempts to run away, but you grab their bag in an attempt to hold them for the authorities whom a witness to the assault has just called. The assailant then says to you, “Your life is over – I’m going to kill you.” A security guard arrives and takes the perpetrator away.

You fill out sheaves of paperwork, including an injury report and a sworn statement and present them to your supervisor, who turns around and tells you that the person who assaulted you is going to press charges alleging that you grabbed them. You protest loudly - to the supervisor, to your union representative, to the police that you were the one who is the victim, that you were injured, that you have ten separate witness statement which attest to the fact that you were indeed assaulted, that you were minding your own business, attempting to do your job when out of nowhere you were attacked by a person who not only has a criminal record, but is currently on parole for a previous assault – but you are told that not only are you going to be investigated by an outside agency for unprofessional conduct, but that if you attempt to enter the police precinct to file an assault charge, you will be arrested and booked on the very same charge.

I know what you’re saying – “Valannin, this couldn’t happen. Criminals may have rights, but surely the justice system would never treat a victim in this matter.”

And I’d say, well, if you are a teacher in the NYC Department of Education, that’s exactly what would happen. Because that’s exactly what did happen to a friend and colleague of mine just yesterday. I’m not exaggerating or hyperbolizing – he was literally standing in his room, talking to a group of students when an 8th grade girl, who has been left back twice, suspended numerous times for various infractions, and arrested for beating the tar out of another student, approached him, told him she’d like to hit him, and then punched him in the stomach twice so hard that he doubled up and hit his knees. She laughed, and attempted to run away, but the teacher grabbed her backpack and held her while another student went to locate a School Safety Agent (who was most likely texting on a cell phone and eating chips). The girl was restrained by the officer, all the while shouting that she was going to kill the teacher; he went into his office to fill out various forms and statements.

When he presented his report to Principal Warbear, she informed him that the girl’s mother wanted him to be investigated for child abuse and that she was going to press charges. Despite his objections, and the witness statements, the principal told him that there was “nothing she could do,” because that’s what the parent wanted, and he would just have to wait until tomorrow to see what happens. He immediately called the police, who explained to him that yes, he could file assault charges against the girl, but since her mother had already done so first, if he entered the precinct house, he’d immediately be arrested.

So now this poor man, who is a 17 year veteran of the school, and well-liked by staff and students (well, all but one apparently), has to spend the night in mental agony – tossing and turning and twisting his hands together, all the while wondering, “What did I do to deserve this? Why have I been betrayed by the very system I have served for so many years? All I wanted to do is teach…”

But there is no teaching left to do, ladies and gentlemen. We are but mere babysitters (albeit very well paid ones) to the immoral offspring of an amoral culture. A culture that disdains education, ignores ethics, but glorifies greed and violence and selfishness. And why not? That’s all they know – from their music to their movies, from every word uttered from their ignorant lips. We’re talking about a culture of people who have almost unanimously decided that it is perfectly acceptable to call each other “Nigger,” just as long as no other culture dares do the same (not that I'd want to; I personally think that anyone who freely uses this expression should be summarily executed, regardless of their race). A culture that defended the song “Cop Killer” as “art” and graffiti as “self-expression.” A culture whose yearly parades, festivals and parties erupt in an orgy of violence, destruction and rape. This is the “urban” culture, the ghetto mindset – a celebration of depravity and lawlessness and entitlement.

And this is who we attempt to teach. A Sisyphean task with no equal.

Futility, thy name is The Department of Education.

I spent my formative years in a Catholic school (which explains, in part, my raging atheism), back when teachers were regarded with sort of a hushed reverence. Students sat in the classroom silently, we took notes, we raised our hands, and we did our homework. And God help you if you spoke out of turn, interrupted the class, or defied the teacher – you’d get a smack on your hands with the ruler from the teacher, and then a few more from your parents after your home was called. Where I come from, parents worked with the teachers to ensure that their children were 1) receiving a quality education, and 2) behaved in class. Sure, we had a handful of troublemakers, but they were identified early, expelled, and sent, coincidentally enough, to public school. See, when a parent has to write a check each month for their child’s education, they don’t want to put up with any nonsense. They have a vested interest in their children, the school, and thus, the community as a whole. Ghetto parents have none of these sentiments. School, much like their rent, their welfare check, and their food stamps, is free, and as a result, they have absolutely no respect for the people handing out freebies. If anything, they view us as a bunch of suckers.

Step One in reforming the NYC Public School System? Charge the parents tuition. It doesn’t have to be exorbitant, but it has to be enough to make a statement to a culture of people who care about nothing except the Benjamins. Hit them in the pocketbook hard enough, and maybe they’ll elevate education to a more worthy level on their hierarchy of priorities. Perhaps somewhere above “buying new rims for their cars” and “purchasing 71 pairs of sneakers.

And don’t think for an instant that this is an isolated incident – during my nine-year tour of duty with the NYC DOE, I myself have been sent to the hospital six times; a “student” broke all the toes in my left foot on my very first day in the classroom (more on that at a later date). I’ve got a file cabinet jam-packed with witness statements, injury reports, and safety grievances, not to mention an eidetic memory bursting with anecdotes and stories that, if ever brought to the public’s attention, would boil the blood of every John Q. Taxpayer living in NY City.

Which is what I fully intend to do of course. One incident at a time.

Before I end this tale, let me bring the readers up to speed on what happened to the student. I’m sure by now, you’re dying to know what sort of punishment is meted out to a thug who assaults a teacher in a NYC public school:

Nothing. No expulsion, no suspension, hell, she wasn’t even given an hour-long sentence of clapping erasers after school. She was however, in class the very next period, telling another student that she was going to “punch him in the fucking face,” because he was “a pussy.” May I remind you, dear readers, that the child in question is a 14 year old girl.

Who, in four years or so, will become pregnant, send her bastard offspring to public school, and thereby continue this nauseating and frustrating cycle.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hey, At Least I Wasn't Told To Burn In Hell...

This is the text of an email I had to send today. I wish this was merely a joke, but sadly, it's all true. The notes in italics do not appear in the original email:

Dear Chancellor Klein,

Upon arriving at work this morning, I was notified by a colleague that she was asked to give up her classroom and move to another classroom at the opposite end of the hallway. She agreed, moved a few of her things, and began teaching in the new room. Unfortunately, this classroom was already occupied by another teacher who, because of the change, was told that he no longer had a classroom in which to teach and instead had to rearrange his entire schedule.

When I inquired as to why she was asked to leave, she replied that it was so the administration could turn her classroom into a “literacy center.” I asked her, “What is a literacy center?” She responded that not only did she not know, but the administrator who initiated this wasn’t entirely sure either. I then asked her why she agreed to move without further inquiry or protest, she replied, “When the administration says something, I don’t argue. Besides, it’s no big deal.”

I went to speak to the administrator in charge of literacy (note – it was the administrator known to readers as Hellhound) who was behind this debacle, but our discussion did not last very long. Here is our conversation in its entirety:

Me: Why did you move Ms. X and Mr. Y from their classrooms?

Administrator: Because we are turning Ms. X’s room into a Literacy Center.

Me: Can you explain to me why we couldn’t use one of the already vacant rooms on the second floor?

Administrator: Because Ms. X’s room is next to my office.

Me: So it’s a matter of convenience to you?

Administrator: Yes.

Me: Regardless of the inconvenience foisted upon Ms. X and Mr. Y?

Administrator: We all make sacrifices for the good of the school.

Me: Can you explain to me what a Literacy Center is?

Administrator: It is a room filled with leveled books. Where students can go and pick out books based on their reading level.

Me: You mean like the library we already have?

Administrator: No, because all the books will be leveled. (Note – leveling a library means that the books are arbitrarily classified and ordered based on reading levels that was concocted by an outside subcontracting company, in this case, a company named Fountas and Pinnell. Keep in mind that there are four separate “reading level” formulas used by four different companies, and not one of them agrees with the others).

Me: Wouldn’t it have been easier just to level the books already in the library? You know, by putting little stickers on them or otherwise labeling them? That way, no teacher would be affected.

Administrator: Mr. Outcast, every time this school attempts to do something, you find only the negative.

Me: Well, uprooting two teachers from their classrooms after two months of school seems pretty negative at first glance. Maybe if this idea had been discussed prior to implementation, we could have identified the possible problems and made changes. But you only told both of these teachers this morning that this would be happening. So who exactly is going to be running this new Literacy Center?

Administrator: We don’t know yet. I have to go.

She then walked away without continuing the conversation.

Mr. Chancellor, every ELA teacher in the school already has a leveled classroom library containing anywhere from 100-500 books. We have a school library with a few thousand titles, and three separate “book storage rooms” containing an unspecified number of books and materials that no one has the key to except the Principal and a $1200 a day “Literacy Consultant.” (Note – I’m not kidding about this either. Our school actually pays someone $1200 a day to come in and explain to professional educators how to level their library. Keep in mind that this particular consultant has never taught one single day in the United States of America in her entire life. But more on her in a later post). Because of this change, two teachers and 6 separate classes have been affected, but no one can provide a satisfactory reason as to why it had to happen in the first place.

I’m hoping, Mr. Chancellor, that you can shed some light on this conundrum.

Sincerely,

Valannin.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why working for the NYC Department of Education is such a grand adventure - not a single day will go by without countless morons demonstrating their infinite idiocy all in the name of abject stupidity. Stay tuned for the Chancellor's exciting and enlightening response! (Note - the odds are 500-1 that the only individuals who will even read my original email are the 11 people who visit this site).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Most Beautiful Fraud In The World

I’ve come to talk to you tonight not about politics, or the Department of Ed, or any of the other topics usually covered here on this site – no, tonight, you and I are going to lament the passing of a dear friend, one who has shared in our collective consciousness for over a century, and has brought joy, laughter and inspiration to innumerable individuals. I’m referring, of course, to the death of the American movie theatre experience. It had been on life support for half a decade or so, languishing and sputtering away, and after last night, I think it’s time to close its eyes forever.

Let me begin by saying that I have always been, and always will be a fan of movies. Notice I didn’t say “of the cinema,” because that’s just a pretentious way of saying, “I like films that no one actually understands, but I am too fearful of being mocked by other pretentious assholes to say that I didn’t actually understand them either, so instead I’ll call them art.” David Lynch has forged an entire career catering to these people. No, movies are something different entirely – one of the last great shared entertainment experiences left in our dying culture. If you think about it for half a minute, the entire concept of the movie theatre is sort of odd: you pay money to sit in a darkened room with a few hundred other individuals so that you can watch a recording of actors on an enlarged screen. Now, watching live sporting events I can understand – 90% of the event is the stadium experience in the first place; the hot dogs, the beer, the high fives, and the human bond that is created though the feelings of euphoric elation, (or crushing defeat). Sports, and likewise live concerts, are a visceral, active activity, full of sound and fury. Watching a movie, however, really shouldn’t be. I mean, at one point, it was –audiences screamed, laughed, or cried during the appropriate times, and then they were courteous enough to shut the hell up and let everyone else enjoy the rest of the show. Unfortunately, the entire process of watching a movie in the 21st Century has been completely stripped of any and all enjoyment. Allow me to elaborate.

This Saturday, a friend and I decided to go and see the new “horror” movie, Paranormal Activity. I put horror in quotes because not one millisecond of the film was even remotely frightening. Now, this isn’t a movie review site, and I’m not going to belabor the point, suffice it to say that the movie certainly doesn’t live up the hype surrounding it. Fine, I can live with that – I’ve seen plenty of bad movies in my day. But that’s not what bothered me about the whole event. What really, really irked me was the absolute frustration I felt with what should be simply the periphery of the movie-going experience.

First of all, it was impossible to buy tickets online to this movie. For whatever reason, we had to drive 20 minutes to the theatre to even find out if there were tickets available. I realize that people survived by using the box office for almost a hundred years, and that online ticketing is a fairly new process, but I can’t think of one logical reason why, if the process is in place for 99% of all other movies, the theatre would opt out for one film. We arrive at the theatre, stand on line for fifteen minutes and ask for two tickets.

$22 dollars.

Twenty-two dollars.

No matter how I type that out, it seems absurd to me, like a cow regarding a rusted engine block in a cornfield (if you understand that reference, then you and I need to get together for drinks).

$22 for two people to sit in a room and watch a movie. I don’t want to get all Grandpa Simpson here, but when I was younger, you could bring a family of four to the movies for 20 bucks and still have enough change left over to buy snacks. But I’m not stupid – I understand the effect of inflation, and cost of living increases and all that, but really? $22? For a movie that was made on a $13,000 budget? Ok, fine, whatever. You can’t put a price on selfish pleasures.

So we move to Stage One of the Theatre Security Checkpoint, where a bored –looking woman rips the ticket in half, hands me the stub and I shove it, forgotten, into my back pocket. This action would later turn out to be a mistake. Because, according to International Law, one cannot fully enjoy a movie without six pounds of stale popcorn slathered in “butter”-flavored industrial lubricant, we head off to the concession stand.

A word or two about concessions. When I was a kid, you could buy three things to shove into your mouth at the movie theatre: Popcorn, Candy, and Soda. That’s it. This triumvirate of snacks should have been good enough, but not for the average, modern theatre-goer, oh no. Now theatres are offering corndogs, pizza, chicken fingers, ice cream, nachos, vitamin water, and cappuccino. Cappuccino. At a movie theatre. Can we as Americans not go 90 minutes without a $7 flavored caffeine fix? The people who buy cappuccinos at movie theatres are the exact same people who eat sushi at baseball games. I stick to the tried and true classics – large popcorn, two medium sodas. The popcorn, which tasted as though it was popped during the Eisenhower administration, was served in a cardboard tub large enough to qualify for a zoning permit, and the “ medium” sodas, I’m pretty sure, had their own ecosystem complete with tidal movement. The snacks themselves weren’t the only thing Supersized, because as soon as the concessions girl stopped bantering with her idiot co-workers long enough to fetch them for us, she presented us with the bill:

$18.50. For popcorn and sugar water.

So far, the night has cost me $40.50. If I had gone to Walmart, (not that I would ever set foot in the Magical Kingdom of Unbridled Consumerism), I could have bought three movies on DVD, four 2-liter bottles of soda, and two boxes of microwave popcorn for almost the same price.

“But Valannin,” I can hear you say, “you’re not paying for the movie; you’re paying for the movie ‘experience’!” Really? Because here’s what I experienced:

After collecting our rations, we attempted to make our way to the theater, where we temporarily stopped at Ticket Checkpoint #2. This time, a surly man with communications device in his ear made us show our stubs yet again. Now, let me point out that I’m already in the theater. I have spent the equivalent of a day’s pay (at the current minimum wage rate) on tickets and snacks. And I have already shown my ticket at the door. In fact, I’m pretty sure that despite the level of incompetence the first ticket checker may exhibit on a day to day basis, she certainly wasn’t going to let us into the main theatre area without doing her job. The ticket is buried in my back jeans pocket, and I’m holding the 1100 pounds of provisions, so my friend was charged with the task of rooting around in my ass pockets for a scrap of cardboard that someone has already checked. Finally, the Ticket Secret Service was satisfied that we had not counterfeited the ticket stub (although, at those prices, that seems like a tempting option), and we were let through – where we would stand on another line. No big deal – we weren’t there long enough to complain, and soon we headed to the theatre door –

Where our fucking tickets were fucking checked one more fucking time by another fucking moron with a walkie talkie. (By the way, no matter what line of work you are in, if you habitually carry a walkie talkie, and are not an active law enforcement officer, then you are, in fact, a douchebag.) I, being the ever curious soul that I am, enquired to Serpico as to why we needed to go through a third ticket check. His answer? “The show is sold out, and people try to sneak in.” Sneak in? From where? You can’t even get into the main lobby without a ticket. Is this movie so entertaining that hordes of theatergoers are camouflaging themselves as decorative shrubbery in an attempt to gain access?

Finally, we are inside, and manage to secure two seats in the direct center of the auditorium. I take the whole theatre seating arrangement very seriously – traditionally, the back of the theater is for teenagers who want to grope each other and engage in other nefarious activities, and the front is for morons who walk in during the first ten minutes of the movie. We sit, construct a rudimentary support structure for our silo of popcorn, and settle in to watch the previews, which, in this particular case, were ten times better than then actual movie.

Remember when, ten minutes or so before a movie, there’d be nothing to do but stare at the red curtains, listen to the horribly piped in music, and perhaps engage in conversation with your movie-going partner? That’s not good enough for 21st Century Americans. Before the previews, there were ten or so minutes of non-stop, pulse-racing advertisements for local businesses interspersed with ads for the theater we were already in. Yes, nothing gets me in the mood for a good horror movie more than a woman with a speech impediment beseeching me to visit her nail salon. If we aren’t entertained (or solicited to) every second of every day, why, there’d be full-scale riots and a complete breakdown of civilization.

Ironically though, even the ten minutes of car ads and music videos aren’t enough to prevent this, as civilization collapsed a long time ago, as evidenced by the human side show that performs concurrently with the movie. The guy in front of me spent the first 20 minutes of the movie texting on his Blackberry, in blatant disregard for the five separate announcements telling people not to do this very thing. Seriously, there was a sign in the front of the lobby, another sign at the door to the theater, a video, and two audio announcements telling people to please, pretty please, put your cell phones away. Consider the level of intelligence one must have to spend $11 on a ticket, only to waste one-quarter of the movie communicating with someone who isn’t actually in the theater about what they are going to do when the movie is over. People aren’t interested in what they are experiencing at the moment or what others are attempting to experience – it’s all just background noise for their own selfish endeavors.

Now I say this without any malicious, racist intention, but if you want to actually experience a movie, you know, by paying attention to the dialogue and completely immersing yourself in the story, it behooves you to visit a theater in a primarily Caucasian neighborhood populated by people over the age of 40. The black couple to the right of me simulcast a play-by-play for the benefit of all those around them who happened to be visually and mentally impaired and only spoke Ebonics. For instance, every time the male protagonist did something, the male color commentator (pun definitely intended) would intone, “That be fucked up, yo,” providing an extra dimension of cultural interpretation as to the character’s motivation. His girlfriend, or, perhaps more appropriately, baby momma, would counter the character’s actions, by giving insightful commentary as to what she would do if she were in the character’s situation. For example, in one particularly tedious scene where the female lead ran back up the stairs after being frightened by a chandelier, Baby Momma exclaimed, “I’d be out the house.” I really don’t know the reasoning behind the black community’s obsession with the conjunctive form of the verb “to be.”

In all fairness, though, it’s not just the blacks – it’s anyone who has been cursed by the urban, hip-hop culture. The girl behind me, a 20-something (age and IQ) Hispanic woman laughed obnoxiously before repeating back every word of dialogue whenever the characters said something humorous, which, to my mind, never happened , but to her, occurred every fifteen seconds. In addition, because her attention span was only slightly longer than that of a dead ferret’s, she must have missed the initial introduction of the characters, electing instead to collectively refer to them as “Nigga.” For example: if the male lead said, “We’ve got to get out of here,” J-Lo would snort, and then exclaim loudly, “Nigga just said we got to get out of here!” She did this no less than 30 times during the movie. If I had a gun, the opportunity, and a choice between killing her or Osama Bin Laden, my decision would be ultimately predicated solely on who was more obnoxious during the movie.

About three seats next to J-Lo was another young “urban male” who, not only walked in ten minutes late, but during any quiet or tense part in the movie, would mutter in a stage whisper, “This is boring yo,” and then play with his cell phone. Since he came in completely alone, and wasn’t actually with anyone in the theatre, this means that he was speaking to no one in particular. Perhaps he was hoping that, in his immediate vicinity, there would be another urban male who would reply, “Damn right, dawg,” and the two of them would forge a long-lasting and meaningful friendship based on their mutual contempt for anything that didn’t feature a continuous, unending stream of exhilaration.

It saddens me that these people cannot go more than ten seconds without anything less than total, constant, sensory stimulation. And if said stimulation could not be found at the very event they paid to attend, then they would seek out a temporary fix from handheld electronics. It’s as if the entire population of Americans between the ages of 2 and 30 are addicts in an unending pursuit of stimulus. To say he was distracting would be an understatement – after the tenth time he said “This is boring, yo,” I was planning to break off my armrest and beat him to death with the cup holder, you know, just to keep everything exciting for him. Fortunately with about 30 minutes remaining in the movie, he got up, left, and never returned. I’m completely serious. He paid $11 to see a movie and found it so interminably uninteresting that he actually left the theatre. Maybe he got a particularly electrifying text message alerting him to a more exciting movie in progress he could ruin for all those around him.

Just so you don’t think I’m solely picking on the minorities, sitting in the back of the theatre was a group of teenagers of varying ethnicities who decided that since this was a horror movie, they were going to scream at everything that happened on screen. Even if what was happening wasn’t remotely horrifying. A door opened? Scream! A man stood up? Scream louder! A shadow passed by the wall? Scream for almost a minute straight so that no one in the theatre could hear the next six lines of dialogue! I wonder if they would have screamed with the same intensity had I run up the aisle and forcibly drowned one of them in my jumbo cup of Coke. I’m thinking, no, as they would have been completely desensitized by video games by this stage in their lives.

Finally, the credits rolled and the movie had come to an end, (“Scream!” , “Nigga said ‘scream!’” ) and I was finally able to get out of the theatre and drive back to my apartment where I have 2 terabytes of movies that I have, uh, “backed up” onto my computer. That’s approximately 2000 movies. And the collection keeps growing. Thank you, Internet, for facilitating my hatred for humanity by allowing me to watch downloaded movies in the comfort of my own home, isolating me from our society’s cavalcade of idiots, and saving me hundreds of dollars in ticket costs. So, barring some unanticipated, momentous cinematic event, I’m staying out of the theaters completely. Sorry, Hollywood, you’ve seen the last $40.50 that you’re going to get from me for a long time.

And for those of you that are planning on talking, texting, or breathing too loud when The Hobbit comes out in 2011, keep in mind that I showed up to the premiere of The Return Of The King with a five-foot longsword. Not surprisingly, it was eerily quiet in my section of the theatre. I’m just saying.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Field Guide to NYC Teachers

I think I have established the fact that the Administration of my school and I do not get along. And there are plenty of reasons for that, which, at one point or another, will come out on this site. But I don’t want anyone to think I’m merely a disgruntled teacher grinding an ax in the specific direction of the administration – oh, no, that’s not the case in the slightest. The administration is but one component of the Tetragrammaton of Idiocy which drives the NYC Public School System, albeit a very forceful and inept one. Today we’re going to explore the next weakest link in the chain: the teachers.

There are four types of people who decide to become teachers, types which I will enumerate below in order from the most innocuous and good-intentioned to the downright reprehensible. Keep in mind, that if you are a parent of a child in the NYC Public School System, your child has at least one of these types of teachers at any given time.

Type Number One: People who become teachers because they love teaching; Also known as “The Professors.”

They operate solely on the idea that imparting their wisdom and knowledge to multiple generations of American schoolchildren is the most noble and important thing a person can do. For them, teaching is a vocation, rather than a profession, and they are completely devoted to the art and craft of instruction. They usually have multiple degrees in the content area of which they teach (another way of saying they are experts in their field), have had “real world” experience outside the bubble of academia, and will most likely destroy you in a game of Trivial Pursuit or Scrabble. Professors have absolutely no patience for things like bulletin boards, rubrics, or lesson plans, have no need for a “teacher’s edition” of anything, and refuse to put smiley face stickers on essays. They are loved by students and parents, but hated by administrators (and the other teachers). These people make up approximately 10% of all NYC teachers (and yes, I like to include myself in their ranks), and their numbers are falling fast.

Type Number Two: People who become teachers because they love children; Also known as “The Mommies.”

Typically hold a “teaching degree” from some little Liberal Arts college somewhere, and possess the entire collection of Disney Films on DVD. They are good with dealing with children’s issues and concerns, but their eyes will glaze over if you attempt to discuss with them anything more profound than Judy Blume. They are characteristically sweet, good-natured, lively, and most likely have a pocket full of tissues at all times. As successful as they are in the classroom, Mommies will always be of the (erroneous) opinion that a teacher cannot be effective unless he / she is also a parent. Will, unfailingly, take maternity leave at least 3 times during their career. Parents, administrators and students under the age of ten love them. Everyone else thinks they’re insipid and annoying. They make up a full 40% of all NYC teachers, but their ranks are dwindling too.

Type Number Three: People who get into teaching because they think they are going to “make a difference.” Also known as, “The People I Want To Punch Repeatedly In The Throat,” or, more simply, “The Vacancy Fillers.”

Typically, they are Caucasian, fresh out of an Ivy League college, (where they majored in something like “Women’s Studies” or “Social Justice”), are from a wealthy family in the Midwest, and use words like “reductive,” “diversity,” and “mission statement” in normal, everyday conversation. Their teaching positions are the first full-time jobs they have ever held. If they owned a car, it would be an Obama-stickered Prius, but they don’t because their parents foot the bill for a pre-war brownstone in Williamsburg. Most likely they devour and regurgitate the dogma of so-called education writers like Lucy Caulkins and Lisa Delpit but will sanctimoniously wrinkle their noses at E.D. Hirsch and Diane Ravitch. Vacancy Fillers received their teaching credentials through an alternative certification program like Teach For America, and, consequently, are completely beholden to said program’s ideology, which usually has nothing to do with children’s education, and everything to do with children’s self-efficacy. They are under the misguided belief that every single child is capable of receiving a full academic scholarship to Harvard, but their theory will remain unproven because after two years, Vacancy Fillers will either quit the system altogether (to go to law school, of course), or enter an Administrative Training program. Students mock them behind their back and throw school supplies at their heads, but Administrators love them. Every other type of teacher hates every molecule of their existence. Unfortunately, they make up about 30% of all NYC teachers, and, equally unfortunate is the fact that every year, there seem to be more of them than there are of us.

Type Number Four: People who became teachers because they mistakenly believed it was an easy job. Most commonly known as “The Veterans.”

Sometimes, they are a combination of Types 2 and 3, but most likely, they are people with no other marketable skills. They passed the certification tests by the skin of their teeth, teach directly out of the textbooks, and give multiple choice tests for every subject. They clock in two minutes before the first bell and two minutes after the last, and throw a tantrum anytime they are expected to perform any task that falls outside of their narrow zones of proficiency or comfort. They take all ten contractually allowed sick days and never stay for any program for which they aren’t being paid overtime. During class, Veterans will sit at their desks, eating lunch or texting on their cell phones while the students are engaged in pointless busywork. They use the same lesson plans over and over for years, regardless of how ineffective or boring they might be. Every day at work is one step closer to retirement, and they will never let a day go by without reminding everyone within earshot of that fact. They are only loved by other Veterans. They make up the remaining 20% of the NYC teachers and you should thank the benevolent deity of your choice that their numbers are rapidly dwindling.

Coming soon – an in depth look at each of these types, complete with analysis, examples, and even more sardonic, arrogant mockery.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Keep the change, please

So I got a Facebook message at 5 in the morning from my friend in Norway who wanted to be the first to tell me that The Anointed One, Barack Hussein Obama, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. My first thought, much like every other intelligent person around the globe was, "Why?" I mean, I'm pretty familiar with Mr. Obama - skinny dude, uses the word "change" a lot - I just didn't know that he had accomplished anything in the "world peace" department. Not as much as, say Al Gore or Jimmy Carter or Yasser Arafat. So I did a little research and was shocked to discover that all it takes to win a Nobel Prize is to have a "vision!" Imagine that! I mean, that's precisely the reason why Mr. Obama was awarded the Prize - for having a "vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." Amazing. The press release didn't list any actual "work" that he did, other than a speech given in Prague a couple of months ago where he told us all how "dangerous" nuclear weapons are.

Well, hell, my dad always told me how dangerous fireworks were, but I don't remember him getting any Nobel Prize. Maybe it slipped my mind. I'll have to ask him about it; it’s probably in his sock drawer or something.

The Nobel Committee press release goes on to say, "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," Those are pretty strong words for a man that was nominated for the award only 12 days into his Presidency. But it’s not like the Nobel Committee has ever come across a “rarity” like Obama before. Oh, right. Gandhi. Yeah. He was nominated 5 separate times but never ended up receiving the award. Maybe he didn’t have any “visions.”

Further in the press release, the Committee says that Obama’s award was granted “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people.” Except for Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel. And Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama (and past authentic Nobel Laureate). And Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons. And Chris Wallace. Extraordinary!

But they're 100% correct. No person has deserved this award more. An insignificant, meaningless award given to charlatans, murderers, and publicity hounds. Enjoy it, Mr. Obama; you've earned it. You've conned the world into thinking you're the second coming of the Messiah with your silver tongue and ill-fitting suits. Me, I'm going to go have a few scotches and have a "vision"of writing the world’s greatest novel. Given the state of mind over there in Oslo, I expect to be receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature within 12 days…

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Confederacy of Dunces

People who aren’t teachers always say the same three things to me: “Wow, you’re lucky, you get the summers off,” and, “You must love kids,” and, “Wow, I could never do that job!” What people don’t seem to realize is that teachers need their summers off for their own psychological health, teaching more than three years will drastically change your perception of children, (and most of the rest of the human race as well) and yes, not only could you not do this job, you wouldn’t want to do this job. I’ve been teaching in the NYC public school system for close to nine years, and I wouldn’t wish my job on my worst enemy. Which, ironically, is the NYC public school system.

Why? Because the entire New York City Department of Education is a perfect example of an entropic system – in fact, it was designed to fail. Don’t believe me? Since 2002, the NYC Schools have been under the direct control of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a man who has demonstrated time and again that he knows absolutely nothing about education. How else would one explain the inability to deal with abysmally low graduation rates? So, ever the politician, Bloomberg appointed long time crony Joel Klein, a man who has demonstrated time and again that he doesn’t know anything about education either, to come in and clean things up. Klein managed to do two things – lower the number of school suspensions (he managed this feat by refusing to suspend students for even the most violent crimes. We had a kid who brought a 12” knife to school in his backpack, and his suspension application was rejected by the city), and hire the sorriest bunch of administrators he could possibly put together. Truth of the matter is that the vast majority of school administrators (Principals, Assistant Principals, etc) are not only severely lacking in teaching experience, but they have no interest in education at all.

Let me repeat that for dramatic effect:

Administrators of NYC Public Schools genuinely have no interest in educating children whatsoever.

How can I make this outrageous statement? Keep reading.

Let me start by giving you a rundown of the people who are “in charge” of the school in which I have worked for almost nine years:

The Principal, whom readers know as Warbear, has held a NYS Permanent Certificate in Special Education since 1996. She became a school administrator in 2004. Our senior AP has held a Nursery, Kindergarten & Grades 1-6 Permanent Certificate since 1998, and became an administrator in 2005. The ELA AP, you know her as the one who damned me to hell, so we’ll just go ahead and call her Hellhound, was also issued a Nursery, Kindergarten & Grades 1-6 Permanent Certificate in 1996; she became an administrator in 2004. The AP in charge of sciences has the most experience – 20 years as a licensed “Industrial Arts” teacher. You know: shop class. Our AP in charge of “Special Education But It Isn’t Quite Clear What She Does All Day”, received a School District Administrator Permanent Certificate in 2005; she does not now, nor has ever, held a teaching license in the state of New York.

There you are ladies and gentlemen –the illustrious leaders of our NYC Middle School. None of whom have ever taught so much as a single Middle School class in their entire lives.
It’s not just my school, oh no – the practice of hiring and placing people with little to no educational experience is endemic to the entire system. Principal of Urban Assembly Academy of Civic Engagement? Zero years teaching experience, received Administrator’s license in 2008. Principal of New Millennium Business Academy Middle School? No teaching license, holds only a provisional Administrator’s license. The Bronx School of Diplomacy principal? Ditto – no teaching license, and a temporary Administrator’s license which expires in three years. The Bronx Mathematics Preparatory School? That’s right – the principal hasn’t taught a day in his life and holds only a temporary Admin license from 2007. The Bronx School of Science Inquiry and Investigation? Hmm…no records are found at all of the principal’s license. And that’s just a small selection of schools in the Bronx. You can try it for yourself: Just search for a school here and then cross reference the principal here. Hours of fun.

But, Valannin, you’re saying to yourself, that doesn’t prove that the administration doesn’t care about education! No? Well then try this on for size:

I arrive at work everyday at around 7:30 AM – we don’t actually have to be in the building until 8, but there’s always plenty of work to be done. I walk in today and notice that my timecard is missing from the slot (yes, we actually have timecards, like common laborers in a sweatshop or something). I ask the payroll secretary, who, despite being the only other person in the school who is legally allowed to even touch my card, doesn’t know where it is. I’m about to give up and just go to my classroom when one of the paraprofessionals motions to me that not only does she have my card, but a notice for me as well. Isn’t that nice! A paraprofessional with no administrative or teaching license has access to my payroll card and is handing out official notices to boot! What a professional atmosphere I work in!

The letter she hands me says the following:

“You are invited to attend a three-part series of a Balanced Literacy Workshop…blah blah blah…” I stop reading after the words “Balanced Literacy” (I’ll explain why in a future post) and “invited.” See, in the strange world in which I was raised, when someone “invites” you to something, you have the opportunity to decline. I’m not big on workshops; I’ve been to dozens of them over the years and have never learned anything of any importance, or anything remotely related to my job of teaching English Literature. Usually workshops consist of Dept of Ed administrators (read: people with very little teaching experience) or overpaid consultants hawking the next great methodology in teaching. Methodologies, I may point out, that have failed. Hard.

Before I stuff the invitation in my bag (I save every piece of paper ever given to me by administration; it’s fun to watch them squirm when they claim to have “never said that” while you are waving the very notice on which they have said exactly “that”), I glance down at the time and date of the workshop. 8:30, October 6th. Gee, today is October 6th. I’m being told about a workshop being held in another location less than an hour before it starts?

Brilliant planning, and entirely indicative of the way the administration manages time in our school. Two years ago, they planned to have the entire 8th grade class pose for the “senior group picture” outside in the yard at 2:45 PM. We dismiss at 2:58. Ever try to coordinate 300 eighth graders in the Bronx to get together for a group picture 15 minutes before dismissal? Let me ask it another way – every try to line up 300 meth-addicted retarded goats and get them to board a canoe blindfolded during a hurricane? Same thing. I knew that such an exercise was going to be a failure from the get-go, and as such, I didn’t even bother to take my class downstairs. Sure enough, there were three fistfights and the kids ended up breaking a steel gate. Needless to say, the photo-op was postponed.

So, I made my way up to my classroom and began preparations for the day. I had planned to begin a complex project involving symbolism and literary theme, and I had some loose ends to tie up. Flash forward to about 10 minutes into first period. A teacher walks in, let’s call him Mr. D, clutching a coverage slip (that’s what teachers get when they have been assigned to cover a class for an absent teacher). We have the following conversation:

Mr. D: Oh, you’re here.

Me: As far as I can tell.

Mr. D: Then this must have been a mistake.

Me: I guess so.

He leaves. Not two minutes go by before AP Hellhound makes an appearance in the classroom. Here’s the transcript of that conversation:

Hellhound: Why are you here?

Me: I work here.

Hellhound: Aren’t you supposed to be at some meeting? (Notice how she says “some meeting.” If she was the AP in charge of ELA, wouldn’t she damn well know where I was supposed to be?)

Me: No administrator informed me that I would be attending any sort of meeting today.

Hellhound: Oh. Well, I think you are. (Again, what’s with all the pathetic dancing around of the subject?)

Me: Nope, I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be here, unless you know something I don’t.

Hellhound: (MUTTERS SOMETHING INDECIPHERABLE UNDER HER BREATH AND SCURRIES OFF)

Two more minutes go by and yet another AP sticks her head in the room. For sake of this anecdote, we’ll call her Rosie, since she has been blessed with all the grace, charm, and beauty of Rosie O’Donnell, if she suffered a debilitating brain injury.

Rosie: You’re here…

Me: Why does everyone keep saying that to me?

Rosie: Warbear wants you downstairs in the main office.

Me: Now? I’m in the middle of class.

Rosie: Yes, now. I’ll cover the class. What are they doing?

What are they doing? It took me an hour to plan the lesson and a whole period the day before to explain it to the class. I wasn’t about to explain it in five seconds as I went out the door. So, I left and made my way to the office, where, sure enough, Warbear was perched on her throne. Standing in the back of the room is Hellhound. Here is the conversation in its entirety:

Me: Ok, yes?

Warbear: (feigning puzzlement) Mr. Outcast, can I help you?

Me: You just asked me to come down here. Rosie came into my room and told me that you wanted to see me now.

Warbear: Don’t you have somewhere you have to be?

Me: Yes, teaching class. I’m in the middle of instruction.

Warbear: I believe you’re supposed to be at a workshop? You were told to go.

Me: No, I was invited to go, and I respectfully decline the invitation.

Warbear: (GETTING ANGRY) Why?!

Me: A couple of reasons. One, I didn’t find out about this workshop until today at 7:30, and two, since it was an invitation, I decided that my job is more important than sitting in some workshop.

Warbear: Do you know what your job is? Your job is to do what I tell you to do.

Me: No, I’m pretty sure that my job is to teach English to 8th graders in this school.

At this point, Warbear snorts derisively, waves her hand dismissively at me, and makes a chuckling sound that can only be interpreted as “Oh, please.”

Me: (not wanting to get into yet another fight) Look, had you informed me of this workshop in advance, I could have made other plans. I’m in the middle of a project with my class. When did you first find out about the workshop?

Warbear: I don’t know. Ms. Hellhound, when did we find out about this?

Hellhound: Um, two weeks ago.

Me: Then why didn’t you inform us then?

Warbear: Because we didn’t know that there were going to be seats available until last night. (Seats? I’ve been to these types of workshops before. You sit in the library of some school with a dozen or so other people on folding chairs. It’s not exactly like trying to get Pink Floyd tickets).

Me: Even so, it might have been a good idea to let us know from the beginning that you were planning this. I’m just asking for a little professional courtesy here.

Warbear: But Mr. Outcast, if we weren’t able to get the seats, then the teachers who wanted to go would have been disappointed. We couldn’t tell them two weeks ago because they might not have been able to go.

Me: What?! If no one knew about the workshop until this morning, how exactly would they be disappointed in something they had no prior knowledge of? If you weren’t able to get the seats, then you could have just not told us.

Warbear: (GETTING AGITATED BECAUSE THE TWO ARTHRITIC MICE RUNNING THE LOGIC CIRCUITS IN HER HEAD JUST KEELED OVER AND DIED) Mr. Outcast I have no time for you! I can’t speak to you!

Me: You have to! You called me down here! You took me away from my class and all you’ve done is talk in circles!

Warbear: You do what you think you have to do. You want to call the Chancellor, go call the Chancellor. (Note – I emailed the Chancellor an hour later). Go call a lawyer.

Me: Ok, fine, I’ll go call a lawyer. Then I’ll call the NY Post and the President of the United States. I’m going back to class.

So I leave and go back to class. Rosie is sitting in one of the student’s chairs, which is pretty funny in and of itself, because it looks like someone dropped a zeppelin on a barstool. She pries herself up and says, “So you’re here.” I respond, “I was given a choice. And here I am.” She leaves, and I pick up where I left off. On a side note, one of my students tells me, “Ms. Rosie tried to make us do something stupid to the project, but I told her that Mr. Outcast knows what he’s doing.” And yes, she will be getting extra credit tomorrow.

Not five minutes goes by and the classroom phone rings. It’s Warbear yet again.

Warbear: Mr. Outcast, what are you doing here?!

Me: I’m teaching my class.

Warbear: Didn’t I tell you to go to the workshop?!

Me: Um, no, actually, you didn’t. Your exact words were, “You do what you think you have to do.” I have to teach. My students will always come first.

Warbear: Mr. Outcast, I’m asking you nicely now, will you go to the workshop?

Me: It’s too late for that. Maybe if we had this conversation two days ago, things would have been different. I can’t talk to you now, I have students waiting.

And then, I hung up. Of course, after the two periods were over, I fired off an email to the Chancellor, the union, and pretty much everyone else I have in my little black book who may be able to assist me with fighting the insubordination letter which is certain to arrive tomorrow.

Angry yet? Let’s crunch some numbers: I teach six periods on Tuesday, which is about one period above the average, to three classes containing 30 students each. Had I gone to the workshop, 90 students would not have received any meaningful instruction in English for today. Ah, but it gets better. I wasn’t the only teacher “invited” to attend today’s snore-fest; four others were given the same honor. Assuming that they also teach three classes, or 90 students, that would make a grand total of 450 students who would not have received any meaningful English instruction today.

Let’s look at it from a financial perspective: I get paid approximately $386.75 a day to teach. Had I gone to the workshop, the city would have paid me that same amount to do absolutely nothing. Plus, all six of my classes would have to have been covered by a substitute teacher at a rate of approximately $40 per period. Given that each teacher has an average of 5 teaching periods a day, the school would have to spend approximately $200 to cover that teacher’s program. My attendance at the workshop would have cost the school, and by extension, the City of New York, approximately $586.00. Four other teachers did attend the workshop, and so, their absence from the school cost taxpayers approximately $2350. Had I gone, the total would have been $2932.00. And that’s just for one day.

Remember when I said that the invitation referenced a “three-part series”? The administrators, in all their infinite wisdom, scheduled three of these workshops. This means at some point, the five administrators in our school sat down and figured that it was perfectly acceptable to take $8798.88 from the budget in order to 1) pay teachers not to work and 2) pay other teachers to cover the classes from which the original teachers were absent. (That’s not even counting the cost of the workshop itself. That’s right, each attendee at a workshop can cost a school upwards of $200. I don’t know the exact cost of this particular workshop, so I won’t speculate here.) In addition, despite all the rhetoric being thrown around involving NYC students and their apparent lack of “rigorous instruction,” the administration further decided that 450 middle school students should miss out on a day’s worth of ELA instruction. On three separate days. So that their teachers can sit in a room and fill out a chart entitled “What we know about Balanced Literacy.”

Now here’s the punchline. At the end of the day, I ran into one of the teachers who actually attended the workshop. She’s a 12-year veteran middle school teacher. Here’s the conversation we had:

Me: So, how was it? On a scale of 1-10, 10 being “total waste of time?”

Ms. B: 10

Me: Interesting. And what did you all talk about?

Ms. B: Same old shit we talk about at every workshop.

Me: Didn’t learn anything new? Helpful?

Ms. B: Nope.

Me: When did you find out about it?

Ms. B: This morning. Hell, the school didn’t even know about it until last night.

Me: What do you mean?

Ms. B: When we walked in, the person running the workshop said, “Oh, here’s the group who didn’t even sign up until last night.”

Me: Hmm…Interesting. Did they happen to give you any handouts or documentation?

She rummaged through her bag and then handed me a blue folder which contained about five Xeroxed papers in it. I didn’t even bother to read through it, for the label on the front of the folder said it all:

Balanced Literacy K-8
Knowledge Management Enrichment / Intervention
Special Education

That’s right. It was a workshop for Special Education teachers. I’m not a special education teacher. Neither are half of the other teachers who attended.

They don’t know, and they don’t care.