Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Who is Zevinon?

I was really stunned by my UFT representatives today at work. I know that we would all like to work in a collegial environment, where the whole school community...admin, teachers, parents, students are striving for the same goal. How is passing out an adversarial survey with leading questions creating more unity? I've worked phone banks for the UFT and attended numerous rallies. I would like to think I did not partake in these things in vain.

I came to this school with the real hopes of school reform. DEAR and advisory were one of the main building blocks that separated this school from other high schools within the NYC BOE. SHAME on the teachers that claim to represent a union of professionals entrusted with the education of our youth who so blatantly disregard the educational philosophy at this school.

The questionnaire that was administered to our staff this afternoon was in no uncertain terms a pejoratively loaded commentary on the principles upon which this school was founded. Questioning DEAR, advisory and Teaching Institute?… why not ask: “ Should all races and academic abilities really take math class?” These are the same type of polls that republicans take to tell the “temperature of the US citizens”.

(eg. How bad did Bill Clinton screw up this country? A. a little B. a lot)

There is no way out!!!!

The questions, were almost totally “Catch 22’s”. I am embarrassed that new teachers and returning teachers think these ridiculously worded questions are representative of our professional colleagues. Are there holes in programs? Yes . Are teaching assistants part of the fabric of the unique culture of learning we have created here? Absolutely. (go outside the main doors that teachers no longer use and look up at the sign)

Lets us take for Example question number 4. ahhhh number 4!

“Do you feel distributive leadership is a myth and that decisions are made without considering the opinions of the staff?”

Is the question suggesting that our administration does not take teacher opinions to heart when making decisions? I am personally appalled. I have worked in four different schools before finding this administration. I have never found one that is more concerned. This question is so unfounded. A veteran teacher in the NYC BOE knows that all established “big schools” have Teacher vs. Administration squabbles that bog down real school reform. Are we trying to establish that sort of environment here???? What type of dynamic are we attempting to set up?

If this is what my ?union? wants, then I want out, I never annointed anyone to represent me but Mike (who ran unopposed). Who are these other people? How were they chosen? Who is Zevinon? We need to have elections for community representatives!!!!!

Re: # 1 “….common planning times between communities..” Is this suggesting that content area departments would better serve the student? Are you saying students are better served by teachers meeting about content rather than teachers meeting about the holistic interdisciplinary student? How so?

Re: # 3 "... not considered a prep..."Here is my lesson plan for DEAR-----“ READ”…. What’s so hard about that? Have your students read. You are not required to do anything else but read… I would never forgive my ???? REPRESENTATIVES?????? For screwing that part of my day up… IF the authors of this survey are struggling in DEAR… I’ll help…when is your DEAR… I’ll come and read.

Re # 10 “…the workload at QHST is too excessive” … if its too hard here ask your AP or Lead teacher for help. 2 out of three times AP’s and Lead teacher would love to help.

Re #11 “….over the past four years” Most of the representatives haven’t been here four years… worry about now!!! Lets stay focused on what’s happening I the building now!!!

Re#12 “… there needs to ba a more balanced approach…” Who is stopping you in your classroom?. get some guts!!! Teach!!!! Sound education decisions will never receive a “U” rating.

Re #13 “ I wish the administration was more considerate with my time” I have never been asked to stay without being compensated.. Teaching is vocation not a mere 9-5 occupation..

Re #14 “…open to dissenting opinions” I wish you could come to a Montessori Lunch and speak to us….we dissent and argue respectfully and honestly without hidden agendas or loaded questionnaires. How can we expect the ability to express a dissenting opinion when even our own UFT blog doesn't allow for dissent?

We need to meet as a Union!!!!

We need to meet soon!!!!


Ms. Mayo said...

The survey left me with a bad feeling, too.

It reminded me of something that Rob Bocchino talks about...statements disguised as "Do you think these kids can really handle the work?" which sometimes really means "I don't think these kids can really handle the work."

It also made me nervous to think that we might be using an old model that some of us are familiar with from our old schools of teachers vs. admin. Many years of therapy have taught me that sometimes we do things because they feel comfortable even if they're wrong.

The whole thing is weird. No offense to Laurie Kucic, but how did she come to be the Montessori representative when she wasn't even here when Mike was elected, and she hasn't been here since? I don't think there are too many people in Montessori that felt represented by the survey.

And the questions...they certainly didn't follow any good questioning or inquiry-based model! Talk about leading! I was waiting for one that said "Do you want the administration to buy you a beach house in Tahiti?" Strongly Agree!

I don't think anybody is happy with holes in programs, etc. but maybe those are part of growing pains. We're learning as we grow.

As for DEAR and advisory...that's my favorite part of working at QHST! Should we eliminate that the way we did CFGs? What's next? I think if people are that unhappy there are probably jobs at the schools that many of us left. And that's not to say that we shouldn't be able to gripe about what bothers us. BUT...let's find the right forum and a more balanced approach.


Anonymous said...

I think the best thing for everyone to do is to complete the survey. Write your thoughts in the comments/ solutions section on the back of the survey. After all, its purpose (however debatable its content) was to find out where we stand. Our Union rep. wants to know, so let's put it down on paper.

Anonymous said...

Wally... do you think you are possibly reading a little too much into this survery?? Maybe our union leader asked these questions because they in fact do represent some of the concerns teachers' have here at QHST.

I'm happy that the Montessori SLC is happy with the way things are going, but I wonder... do you, in fact, speak for everyone in your community??

No, I don't fully agree with every one of his questions on the survery, but I also don't think that he, and the members of his team, are in the wrong for asking such questions.

And what was with your "republican" reference??

Anonymous said...

I disagree, based on the questions there was a clear and obvious purpose and agenda. The questions were guiding. We are all educated professionals and I was insulted by the questions. Be straight don't insult me. The M.O. at most traditional schools is one of constant conflict between the teachers and the adminstration. This is used by both sides to ignore legitimate school reform and provide a diversion for the real work that needs to get done. We need to let go of bad habits and baggage we bring from our old schools. We all came here knowing that the challenges were going to be different at QHST. That we would have growing pains and that we would work together in collaboration during moments of crisis. I believe a majority of us want to make this collaboration work. Those who do not are doing a diservice to their colleages. At large schools we can always ignore the problems and the students who are unsuccesfull and pass them on to others (how collegial is that?) However at our school we have to deal with all that we do both good and bad together. This requires a different kind of thinking that is more aligned with collaboration than with antagonism. We all feel the stress of DEAR/ Advisory and the challenges they pose, of having holes in our students programs, of wearing multiple hats. There are hundreds of schools that do things differently. Why change this one oasis of difference? I'm embarrased to think that it is my union that stands in the way or reform. Usually it is the other way around. I too like Wally attended rallies and worked phone banks. I'm deeply saddened by this.

Ms. Feliciano said...

Gee Brown, I guess we all know your answer to question #14.

Joan Washington said...

DIFFERENT BY DESIGN - Need I say more - as Nigel often reminds all: read the concept paper! I totally agree that someone is not getting it if they think that it is "we" against "them". It misses the whole point, mission, vision etc. of what QHST stands for. I can wholeheartedly say as a teacher turned administrator in the DOE for almost 30 years that QHST treats all employees with the utmost respect, and values opinions, promotes collaboration, and insists on shared decision making to the point that it hurts!!! It is not easy to be so involved and included that you feel that you are responsible for the results -- but look at the results -- there are students and parents TURNED AWAY EVERY DAY THAT WANT TO ATTEND HERE BECAUSE OF THE EXCELLENT TEACHING OF VALUES AND ACADEMICS... that says it all, shouldn't it, and isn't is all about the kids? Isn't this why we first got into this business?

Anonymous said...

i don't think it's such a big deal - most surveys contain biases. There is an undercurrent of dissention that needs a voice. Let's not stifle it.

You don't have to fill it out.

Anonymous said...

Just clicked on your blog and must say that I never cease to be amazed by
you. You are an asset to your school and to the teaching profession. Keep
up the good work.

QHST Employee said...

Didn't the teachers know what they were getting into when they commited to getting a new school off the ground? I'm curious to see the responses - please keep me in the loop.

Anonymous said...

Hi Guys:

Wally, I admire your zeal and passion, however, I think that we have to be fair here. No one was forced to read or respond to this survey. I think that if "everyone" is content then people shouldn't have a problem answering the questions. The problem is that some people are dissatisfied. As such, our UFT Chapter Leader, needs to gauge exactly who stands where so that he can be effective. Are the questions leading? Yes! Do you think that was by accident? Any good DEAR student would know that there are no accidents in writing.

I, too, value DEAR and Advisory, but I can see how some would see the Advisory portion as challenging. In many cases it can be construed as a prep. Does that mean that we get rid of it? I don't think so. I think it just means that we have to be open minded to new ways to address people's concerns.

Moroever, I think that you are misrepresenting what is written in the survey with your comment about Teaching Institute. The language of question #5 does not refer to TI students, which are in fact a cornerstone of our philosophy. What our Chapter Chair is referring to is the practice of placing Teaching "Assistants" in classrooms to fill holes. This can become cumbersome with the best of students...imagine the result when students are somewhere they would rather not be.

As a teacher of history, you should know that questioning a practice does not mean you condemn it. In fact, following a practice blindly, is far worse than questioning an issue.

Wally, we have to be honest here. Everyone knows that sometimes decisions are made without consulting with us. Is this an unusual practice? Absolutely not, however, it is upsetting to see this when you are under the impression that everyone has a voice. You must also keep in mind that not everyone has had your "negative big school" experiences. We have to keep in mind our new teachers.

I, in no way advocate for an adversarial relationship between the administration and the faculty. In fact, as chapter chair I worked to avoid such a dynamic. Yet, I have to point out that QHST is not the same school it was three years ago. Split schedules, split SLCs, and the absence of Lead Teachers at Leadership meetings have definitely changed the climate of this building. Although our pedagogy is still non-traditional, the logistic framework of our school is moving on a traditional path. Changing times lead to changing ideas and practices. I don't honestly believe that trying to find out what people are really feeling construes being adversarial. It isn't all about what is happening or what you make happen in your classroom. Being an educator is also about how you interact with your colleagues and your superiors. The nature of education is contingent on inquiry. If we expect our students to question practices and ideas, why do we expect less for ourselves? When we question we care. If we don't question, things remain static, and stasis is tantamount to death.

Demi said...

Granted, planning for D.E.A.R./ADVISORY (let's remember the students receive 1 combined grade) is not overwhelming, but let's consider this. We spend over 1 and half more hours with our advisory students (because they are our advisees, not our D.E.A.R.ees) than with each of our content classes.
The line between D.E.A.R. and Advisory has always been blurred (for me at least.) I am capable of reading for 45 (not 20 or 35 anymore) minutes every day, but many teens aren't; they have so much going. We know this; that's partly why the advisory model was built into our school philosophy. Are we expected to "shush" a student's concerns because they do not come to us during the right hour of the week?
The key to a sucessful D.E.A.R. advisory program is not a matter of planning, but one thought and implementation. Not just a bubble sheet and a book.

new teacher said...

As a new teacher, I was a bit confused by some of the questions.
I have been welcomed into the school and sent to hours of PD to ensure that I fully understand the "visions" of the school. I accepted the mission and the views of the school, because it is what is best for the students.
That is the reason why I am a teacher. I entered this position fully aware of my expectations for DEAR, advisory, etc. It is what I agreed to when I began my first day at the school.
I wasn't promised a parking spot, a perfect class or even a schedule that I wanted.
I was promised support and help when I need it. Already I have received much more help from the school than I would have received anywhere.
I am confident that if I have a problem, I will be heard and something will be done about it.
I admire the passion from many of the teachers in my community.
My question to you is (this is not meant to offend anyone)
What does the union do for teachers at QHST? I am asking this as a literal question, not philosophical. I find that if I have a problem, I can speak with the administration directly to sort things out.
What can the union do for me?

Superfly said...

My goodness Walter, these people sound ridiculous! But, you know what would have been even better than you ranting on as you did (which I enjoyed immensely, by the way), you could have scanned in the questionnaire! That way people who weren’t actually at this meeting, such as myself, who are also very invested in the structure, values, pedagogical practices, etc. of QHST could have seen the content of this survey that makes you so upset!

That’s all, you know I love to listen to (read) you rant...


Anonymous said...

I have to say Wally that you make some solid points. First of all, if we begin to seriously question some of the pillars of QHST then I am afraid the building, and essentially vision, will crumble.

But at the same time we must show some flexibility. Remember, great leaders/documents, etc. admit wrong doings, learn from mistakes or from simply lofty and unattainable goals, and change for the greater good and "fix" things. I think you would agree that much like the neo-con Republicans you so aptly cited, we must not get into the habit of NOT fixing things when addressing QHST'S policies/goals/design etc. Because if we fail to do so we might wake up one day cornered without any "exit strategy."

Yet we must not sacrifice the pillars of QHST - the very core of what makes our school different from others - in order to fix everything. We must be very careful in what we choose to fix. We must also be careful not to always choose solutions that are comfortable and familiar. QHST was designed to "not fit." It was designed to somewhat not make sense. I fear overfixing things just for the sake of feeling more at ease will only make us more unrecognizable. Besides, is this really about "me" or the kids? To be frank, I'm a Brooklyn boy whose seen what NYC crappy schools are like up close. I've lived amongst teachers who clocked out on time, had trouble remembering your name in the hallways, and paralyzed education by sequestering themselves into content-driven clusters that resemble our dysfuntional Homeland Security department. Sure there were exceptions, but the majority pretty much was unremarkable.

Having said this, I just don't get what all the fuss is about? QHST is a work in progress. Why aren't we recgonizing some of the greatness of daily life? For one, our school is extremely diverse. Second, our High School students and teachers have a very unique relationship, unlike most schools. Finally, at every corner there is an unspoken tolerance for one another. In SLC I hear how students misbehave and act like this and act like that - damn they are kids! Sorry to go off topic but it seems that we are complaining just to complain. Sometimes I even find myself doing the same! (Ugh! how annoying) Honestly, my only real beef is with the damn technology, give me some copiers that work all the time and a much faster Internet network and I will call it the day for a while.

Perhaps we complain simply because there really isn't anything "very serious" to complain about? Walk the halls of Grady HS in Brooklyn and then come back to me with your complaints. Just make sure you don't wear anything metal or you won't get in. Our student body is age- appropriate, and to be frank, quite sensitive and caring. I think this comes with being a QHST student - where the individual is known and accountable. Not to mention, learning in an inclusive setting also builds gentlemen out of boys and ladies out of girls without them even knowing it. I am not denying that like all NYC schools, we too have some tough kids who come from some tough places. But I really believe that school in general is a big part of "the street" and if your school is one that is positive, models acceptance, and truly makes kids feel special - then suddenly a child's whole neighborhood starts to change. And soon enough the school becomes the norm and everything else that is negative slowly is rejected. Isn't that a major goal? To show students there's more to the world than what they previously thought?

Certainly there are exceptions and perhaps some students truly need a different environment for their best interests, but the majority of our students, and our core beliefs, make our school stand out. More so than even the suburban wonderland to our east - our school teaches just by simply being. Its design empowers skills and values that transend school walls and permeate the larger society. To change these fundamental beliefs, I'm afraid, will only lead us down a slippery slope where QHST transforms itself into every other NYC public school that gets lost in the mix. This will only move our students, further from being recognized, and (as you say Wally) applauded by the masses.
- Eddelson