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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

We've Got an M.O.A.!

I spent last night trying to decipher the M.O.A. and I imagine I will continue to do so for the next few days.

I am amazed by several things.  First, I am amazed that our 300-member U.F.T. Contract Committee and U.F.T. Executive Board could give the contract a fast-track green light without ever seeing the Memorandum of Agreement (M.O.A.).  I also doubt they were allowed to read any of the unattached, highly important contract points on salary deferments or possible healthcare contributions (Point 10 of a separate memo). 

I am reminded of Nancy Pelosi's famous quote: "It's going to be very, very exciting.  But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy."  It must be exciting to pass something when you're not even sure what's in it!  It's like a wrapped gift on the table.  And, what a nice way to a avoid controversy!  You just have to go on faith and hope that the gift doesn't bite you back or turn into a Trojan Horse.

Well, the M.O.A. arrived Tuesday night (happily not C.O.D.).  And, today, Wednesday, is the D.A. meeting.  The D.A. will be in a bit of a time bind to read it.  Was this the intention?  What if as teachers, D.A. members need to prepare lessons and grade homework?  What if as human beings, they have prior engagements?   How will they be able to adequately digest all the material in one night and also check elsewhere for any of the all-important salary facts and healthcare info. Or, is it largely unnecessary for the vast majority of Unity members to read the documents because they are beholden by a contract they signed to a loyalty oath of support?   I am hoping they read it and question it.  I know I am reeling from my first read.

Let me tell you some reasons why.  

One irony struck me from the get-go.  I read about excessive paperwork.  Then, I read about Unit Planning.  I would like to suggest to my not-yet-formed Central Paperwork Committee that these required Unit Plans which must be formatted to fit some form, even if it is only a page in length, smacks of excessive paperwork already.  Anything that is primarily for show, meaningless to me and to the quality of my teaching strikes me as one "paperwork" too many.      

There will be yet another new committee to throw into the mix.  The School-Based Staff Development Committee (SDC--which, by the way, also stands for the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society) will develop plans for yet more Professional Development.  How about a song and dance show?  I hate to say it, but I am a professional.  I have been one for over twenty years although many days, given the current climate blown up from D.C., I do not feel like one.  I professionally develop on my own, every day of my life.  I read, think, research some more and write.  Any teacher in the system will tell you that in-school Professional Development is rarely worth the time it takes, especially after the first few years of it.  

Some schools will pilot a student survey program.  I can already tell you what will happen.  Easier teachers and teachers who assign less homework will win the day.  I try to do nice, little things for my students, here and there, as I may, but now all of that will feel self-serving if it comes to a survey.  My joy is diminished.  

There is still so much discussion of MOSLs and other nonsense.  When will these ideas be out the door?  I read at Diane Ravitch that a Houston Law battle may take down VAM.  If true, that would be truly lovely!  When will sanity return to the classroom?  Who will evaluate the screwy ideas that force schools into testing overkill and  test prep so intensive that it can suck the joy for learning out of the brightest-eyed child with the most eager mind?

According to the contract, there will be a new classes of colleagues created to rise above the rest of us.  They will be called many things, including Peer Validators, Teacher Ambassadors (do they have diplomatic immunity?), Master Teacher and Model Teachers.  They may be called some more things with time.  I'm a little disappointed.  I was really hoping for the category of Jedi-Warrior Teacher.  

These distinguished colleagues will receive merit pay for some extra responsibilities.  The system will divide teachers.  I am highly suspicious.  I think most of us do fine in the classroom.  We have our own strengths and the strengths differ from colleague to colleague.  I don't need someone coming to tell me how I should teach and I would never want to be so presumptuous as to tell a colleague the same.  I don't mind discussing approaches.  We do that all the time in our workroom.  But the moment someone is labelled as a "Master," I think the rest of us must have a good laugh and the "Master" will be laughing right along with us, all the way to the bank!  Cut these provisions out of the contract and count your savings.

I have read two differing accounts on the treatment of ATRs.  In a letter to ATRs, Mulgrew said things are much rosier than portrayed.  While James Eterno at ICEUFT, whom I read is destined to become an ATR soon, has analyzed all the provisions, piece by piece, and concluded the exact opposite.    

Danielson is reduced from 22 components to 8 (1a:  knowledge of pedagogy; 1e: coherent instruction; 2a: respect and rapport; 2d:  student behavior; 3b: questioning and discussion; 3c: engaging students; 3d: assessment in instruction; and 4e: growing and developing professionally).  Each of the components will count for 17% of the total, with the exception of 1a, 1e and 4e which will all count for 5%.  To tell you the truth, I would rather have fewer observations.  Let my AP walk the halls as in the old days and look in every room on a regular basis to make sure real learning is taking place.  APs should not be forced to enter rooms and hover with pen and paper, taking fast and furious notes to input later on a computer, when the teacher has a record of doing fine for more years than you can count on your fingers and toes.  Let APs focus their attention, instead, on helping the newest teachers or those in need of the most help.

There are a whole host of other issues that could be mentioned here, including some of the most important issues to many, that of salary and healthcare.  The specifics of these crucial topics are lacking from the MOA itself.  But some have spilled out and more appear on the way.  

I know there are some who will fall head over heels in love with the contract.  In most cases, they will work for the Mayor, Unity, have another income or fail to read the fine print.  But for others the M.O.A. may be D.O.A.  Starving teachers may not appreciate being shown a "bare cupboard" when they sense unseen reserves.  Then, there is an obscure Point 10 of the Municipal Health Care Plan that demands further clarification.

I will watch, wait, absorb and process.  And, while doing so, I will remember that there was a 1995 contract rejected by teachers (when I was the new kid on the block).  The 1996 version was an improvement.  Although much remained the same, new teachers got a better deal which was "cost-neutral," largely by extending the contract for two months (the 1996 contract took out the 5% penalty for new teachers; made maximum salary at 22 instead of 25 years and gave $3,500 more per semester for teachers adding an extra period daily). 

Perhaps in addition to focusing on lessons learned from history, we also need to focus on the fact that we are the movers of history.  The decisions we make today are important for the future of our profession as well as for the Labor Movement as a whole.  These are no small times.  We must be big.    

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