2008-04-18 / Columnists

School Scope

Seniority Be Damned!
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott When you get on an airplane, peek in the cockpit. Do you feel better or worse if there's a gray-haired gent sitting in the pilot's seat? How would you feel if you saw, say, a 22 year old? How do you feel about seniority now?

Blogger NYC Educator raised an interesting point in a piece titled, "They Should Be Shocked! Shocked!" (Claude Rains, where are you?)

It's funny to read in the UFT paper that they've filed a discrimination suit against the city. Apparently, the Absent Teacher Reserve is largely composed of senior teachers. Amazingly, principals, who now have to pay salaries out of their own school budgets, prefer to hire newer teachers for half the price.

Clearly, no one in the UFT anticipated this when they agreed to Klein's third reorganization. This was the reorganization that made principals pay salary lines out of their own budgets. UFT big shots are shocked that principals snap up newbies at half the price while senior teachers are left to rot in the ATR brigade.

Randi Weingarten and Joel Klein both gain from the attack on senior teachers. The more years people teach, the more they see how the UFT and the DOE operate and the better the chance some of them will become resisters. Just look at the experienced core that is built around his blog. Many only became resisters in recent years.

A younger crowd without a memory of an active union helps Unity Caucus keep power in the UFT. Unity talks the game on seniority - they've been finagling these lawsuits for years, for PR purposes. People who have been tracking them know just how they've made sure to file these things in a way that will take as long as possible - the idea is to shut people up and say - "See, we're doing something." Ignore what they say, but watch what they do.

Even a recent UFT response (the audio is on my blog) on Klein's tenure manipulations bragged about how many ways principals have to deny tenure. The UFT unofficial position on the non-tenured is to say, "Wink, wink, do what you will." That was the basis of their outrage. "We are letting you do anything you want and you still want to make a political deal out of this?"

It works for Klein, too, in the same way - fearful and manipulated, new teachers will ignore even the union rules they have. Like a duty free lunch hour, one of the basic rights in the contract, is being ignored all over the place, especially in elementary schools where it is considered unpatriotic to refuse to attend "working" lunches.

The UFT has been part of the attack on senior teachers - underground by agreeing to gut the contractual protections, starting with going along with Klein not to allow seniority transfers. Klein used this as his opening salvo when he took over, claiming these people were all incompetent. I even saw Randi at a City Council meeting, not defending these transfers but bragging how we were cooperating. These were, maybe, 600 people a year and they were attacked like this was the cause of educational failure.

One of the ironies is that Klein also attacked these transfers because "they were removing needed experienced teachers from the ghetto schools that needed them." What bull, considering how the DOE turned this around. Klein said the same thing in the last reorganization, claiming the "white" schools got more money because of higher teacher salaries. That is how he sells his program to the black and Hispanic communities. Playing the race card.

I knew many excellent teachers who after 20 years got tired of battling with struggling students and wanted to end their careers working with a different population. Principals always resisted these transfers and for years managed to hide openings - just check all the young kids teaching in Staten Island for many years while teachers who were residents and working in Williamsburg waited years for a transfer.

But many of my friends found it so much easier to teach when they got to these schools because discipline was easy as pie. They were often looked at within a year or two as one of the best. Were there some rotten apples? Of course. But these were magnified by Klein and others who spread stories about them - check Sol Stern's book about the awful math teacher his kid at Stuyvesant ended up with after transferring from Seward Park. He built his rep with the right wing antiteacher crowd on the back of that teacher.

The UFT, always not wanting to appear to be defending bad teachers, is willing to allow good and bad to go to slaughter, so they can claim "we are a union of professionals" that helps remove poor teachers. This is not just a Weingarten thing, but comes directly from Al Shanker - some of his quotes will make your hair stand up - from merit pay to seniority to the use of a testing regime.

I just finished working on a review of Richard Kahlenberg's book on Shanker, and that has provided a deeper understanding of how and why the UFT has made the moves it has. Klein has not outfoxed them. Philosophically, they've been there before Klein ever set foot in Tweed.

In fact, there's a defense of seniority, with all the attending ills. I taught for 27 years in an inner-city school and most people spent their careers there. New teachers were absorbed every year a few at a time, and working next door to senior teachers, always had people to rely on. Of course, the cushy positions were filled by seniority. In some ways that worked. After all, you spend 10 or 15 or 20 years in the allday classroom, maybe it's better for the teacher and the kids for you to do a less intensive job.

Ok. I know the argument that new teachers shouldn't be thrown into the fray right away. My first year and a half, I lucked out and was an ATR (they had them in '67 and '68 when they over hired) and I went through hell.

But I learned without ruining a class, other than the day I had them. By my second year I felt like a semipro, and when I took over my first class midway through that year, I really knew what I was doing.

So my solution is to either set up an internship program and/or make the new teachers ATR's instead of the senior teachers, a massive waste of talent and money. I'm going to Obama with a banjo on my knee

Howie Schwach editorializes on how Obama's refusal to wear a lapel pin that would demonstrate his patriotism will cost him votes. My guess is that Obama can wear a jacket made of lapel pins and he will not get those votes. No matter what polls show, when it comes time to pull the lever, a lot of people will not vote for a black man for president. I think it's called "racism." Some comedian said that the only time you see a black man as president in movies and on TV is when some cataclysm is about to hit. What's more likely? Obama as president or the earth getting hit by an asteroid? He has my vote anyway, but I'm writing this from under my dining room table. Here are some stories I've been writing about on my blog

Changes in the Gifted and Talented admissions policy. Did poor kids gain ground? On average, districts with higher proportions of poor kids saw declines in gifted admissions.

Jamaica High School and school psychologists protested at the April PEP meeting. Queens still doesn't have a rep. Tick, tock, Helen Marshall. The NY State Bored of Regents: One more useless body that should be declared extinct. (Note to editor: the word "bored" is spelled that way intentionally.)

Norm's email: normsco@gmail.com Norm's blog: http://ednotesonline. blogspot.com/

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