2005-11-11 / Community

Micromanagement, ‘Nitpicking’ On Region Five Agenda

A Wave Analysis

By Howard Schwach

“I have no time for myself, neither on the weekends or after school,” a local elementary school teacher who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution said recently. “I have had two panic attacks within the past month and can’t sleep because I dream about all of the things they want me to do in school. There is no peace of mind because I know that there will come a day when I will miss some little thing and be fired. There is no possible way that I can do everything they demand from me and still teach my class – I am bound to miss something. I know that I am a good teacher, but the kids are going to miss my sense of humor, the fun of learning, love, because teachers cannot experience these things any longer in the nitpicking atmosphere that Region Five is fostering in the schools.”

That is typical of accounts from teachers coming to The Wave office. Things have gotten so bad that a recent meeting was held between Randi Weingarten, the President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the district leaders in each of the schools. Subsequent to that meeting, Weingarten met with Region Five Superintendent Kathleen Cashin to discuss the “micromanagement” going on in region schools.

Cashin told The Wave on Wednesday that the meeting with Weingarten and the chapter leaders did take place and that micromanagement was one of the topics discussed. “”It was a very productive meeting,” Cashin said. “I did a lot of listening and a lot of discussing.”

Cashin promises that changes will be made to “make the teacher’s life easier” within the regulations.

Weingarten told local chapter leaders that she was surprised that Cashin was coming down so hard on the teachers because “the Chancellor is keeping an eye on her.” .

“We ask the union leadership to do something and the leadership tells us that we have to do it ourselves,” one chapter leader said. “Our members have seen teachers attacked by their administrators and they don’t want that to happen to them, so they won’t sign their name to anything and they don’t even want the region to know which school the information came from.”

Another long-time teacher wrote of Angela Logan, Principal of MS 198 in Arverne, “Principals are supposed to be the instructional leaders of the building, to nurture, guide, assist and support the staff so that they might reach their full potential as teachers. That’s what good administration is all about. Instead, Logan presents herself to teachers as the aggressive leader of a Guantanamo Bay-type institution, intimidating and bullying, creating chaos throughout the building instead of creating a harmonious community of learning. She believes that it is better to intimidate and demean teachers than to encourage them to do better.”

One of Logan’s teachers, a person with more than 20 years of satisfactory teaching experience, received an unsatisfactory rating recently because “work on the bulletin board did not state positive and negative feedback and did not show what student had to do to achieve level four work.”

The same elementary school teacher who wrote the statement at the beginning of this article pointed out some of the “overwhelming” tasks that are considered to be micromanagement by the vast majority of the teachers in the school.Because elementary teachers teach four different subjects, they must maintain four portfolios per student, a total of up to 120 portfolios. A copy of everything that is on a bulletin board must also be in the student’s portfolios necessitating lots of time copying student work, each portfolio must include cover sheets, book lists, editing samples, final work and student notes on each piece that is in the portfolio.

Cluster teachers who teach such subjects as social studies and science often see 20 or 25 different classes per week and they have to mark papers, make comments, put post-it notes on every piece of work with comments and recommendations, record the information and maintain the portfolios.

Bulletin boards are another area of contention.

The topics for the bulletin boards are chosen each month by the principal and those boards must be updated at least monthly, although some principals demand weekly changes. Each piece on the bulletin board must have a post-it note with a comment from the teacher on how to make the work better. Most bulletin boards must hold a minimum number of student’s work – typically a dozen pieces. There have been numerous reports of “unsatisfactory” bulletin board being ripped down by local instructional supervisors and school administrators. One teacher complained that the region often demands double and triple work. For example, the teacher said, there is a “25-Book” chart showing the books read by students in each room. There is also a book log in each student’s notebook and the same book log in each student’s portfolio. These charts must be constantly updated, a duplication of work that many teachers believe unnecessary.

Cashin admitted that there were some supervision problems centering around portfolios and bulletin boards.

“Some of the rules were misinterpreted in the schools,” Cashin said. We are not looking for cookie-cutter supervisors, but for differentiated instruction because some teachers need more supervision than others.” Cashin says that portfolios are really a citywide issue, not a Region Five issue.

“Every promotional policy requires a substantive portfolio,” she said. “At the same time, we can’t expect teachers to copy everything. On each suggestion, we reflect and discuss what can be done to make a teacher’s life easier.”

“I’m not saying that some of the [micromanagement] did not occur,” she admitted. “I want quality. I don’t care about colors, I care about writing.”

“I am going to rectify the problems,” she added. “Our teachers work very hard and most of them are very good.”

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