Thursday, April 20, 2006

I'm not even sure I want to touch this one, but...

everyone else seems to be, so why not?

The first point, which I want to get out of the way quickly because it's so obvious, is that if housing incentives are necessary to recruit new teachers, doesn't that kind of beg the question whether it wouldn't be easier to pay us enough to live on? Then again, a conversation with friends last night reminded me that no one I know is paid enough to afford to live in NYC, and I'm not even doing the worst, by a long shot (though none of them have stayed in the same profession nearly as long as I have). New York has a serious problem with affordable housing that goes beyond any one profession. Ms. Dennis points out that even this new housing incentive is a drop in the bucket. And the offer for the rest of us - mortgage counseling, preference in housing lotteries, etc. - might help but is not impressive, frankly.

I was a beneficiary of recruitment incentives - I got a nearly free master's degree (paid for with my Americorps stipend and by the DOE and Teachers' College) during a short time period when this was offered to TFA teachers willing to stay an extra year. I remember thinking at the time that they were making it too easy; they ought to have asked us for at least another two years, or maybe three to bring us to a five-year commitment. I completely understand people's issues with TFA and the Fellows, and share many of your concerns, but at the same time, some of us DO stay, and I don't think it does anyone any good to allow the existence of these programs to be divisive. The bottom line is that more than 40% of new teachers leave by the end of five years, and that includes a lot of teachers who entered the profession the traditional way. We're in a field that eats its young.

I'm not against recruitment incentives, per se. Teaching certainly wouldn't be the first profession offering lures to bright young things - I found it a bit rich that an ex-boyfriend, who worked in the financial industry and made three times what I did (at least), had his moving expenses and master's degree paid for, not to mention an on-site gym, subsidized Starbucks, etc., etc. But as nearly everyone pointed out in the comments, retention is the neglected side of the coin. Jonathan asks, What would we want? Pay us more? Improve our working conditions? 4 classes instead of 5? Supplies? Reduced class size? Curricular control?

This document from the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future contains some interesting statistics about who stays, who leaves, and why. High poverty public schools have nearly 20% annual turnover, with slightly more than half of that teachers leaving the profession altogether (as opposed to changing schools). Contrast that with low poverty public schools, which have about 13% annual turnover, which is close to the average for all professions (11%). Teachers leaving high poverty schools cite working conditions, such as poor administrative support, as their reasons for leaving, while teachers leaving low poverty schools cite low salary and poor student motivation as their primary reasons for leaving. This suggests that a key to retention is improving working conditions. Specifically, poor administrative support, lack of faculty influence, classroom intrusions, and inadequate time are the top four reasons for leaving high poverty schools, followed closely by salary and student behavior problems.

So, if I were trying to improve retention in the city's schools, I'd start by looking more closely at these figures. Why not start by replicating this survey here in the city, to identify the specific factors driving people out of schools here? Does the DOE do exit interviews? Maybe they should, for a randomly-selected sample of those leaving. And maybe they should look for clusters of leavers and do more exit interviews within those clusters, to see if certain schools, regions, subject areas, grade levels, etc. are pushing people out faster than others. Gather data, then address the problems.

In her post about this, Ms. Dennis points out that the city neglects really basic improvements to physical plant, yet invests millions in recruitment.
The city is going to be paying about $1.5 million for this. But they can't fix the ghetto floor in my classroom (as my students call it)?

I'm with her on this one; I'll bet there are investments in improving working conditions that could directly benefit students while simultaneously improving retention. It's hard to explain to someone who works in a comfortable downtown office all day long, the subtle wearying effect of working in ugly, broken-down classrooms, always and unpredictably the wrong temperature, with unreliable access to internet and other technology, unreliable plumbing, cockroaches and mice, and so on... and this wearying effect is on both teachers and students, sending us a message of neglect. Spend a few days in schools where the atmosphere is always tense, voices raised, curses flying, and see what it does for your blood pressure and ability to sleep well at night, and your desire to return the next morning.

I've written before about the need to improve the middle levels of this bureaucracy, to find or create good principals and regional administrators who are smart and flexible, able to see and reward good instruction, able to empower good teachers to be better and to help others improve, able to balance standards and equity and caring... I won't beat a dead horse. Just look at those top concerns cited by teachers who leave, contrast the experiences of teachers like TMAO (I can't find the post I'm thinking of) with those of Ms. Dennis, and you'll see how much difference a good principal can make.

The UFT claims that this new incentive program came about in response to a concern that the state would force experienced teachers to involuntarily transfer to the hardest-to-staff schools. It makes me wonder, what would it take to convince experienced teachers to voluntarily make this transfer, so that programs like the Teaching Fellows would not need to place their vulnerable new teachers in the lowest-performing schools, which might help improve retention?

*****

I don't have a problem with being called to account for how I voted, though I don't see the logic in taking me to task for having a problem with something that wasn't part of the contract, because I should have sensed the poor intentions of my union leadership. If you think the union leadership is out to get you, that's all you're going to see, everywhere you look. I prefer - and I readily concede that I might be naive - to believe that our union leadership is legitimately trying to do well by us, although not always succeeding. For the record, I also believe that members of opposition parties legitimately believe that they have better strategies for getting us what we need. Let's debate policies and strategies rather than arguing about other people's intentions.

19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, many teachers who leave are those who are lucky to get a job on the island. Those that are in private schools or private industry are much happier.

I do agree that recruitment would not be an issue if salaries and conditions were improved. However, to justify the signing bonus when this money could be used towards our salary is, in my opinion, wrong.

You do seem to take the side of Unity even if you disguise it with terms like naive. You even stated your vote was due to tone over content. If you really think that one day all principals will be better leaders, then you are naive.
We have to deal with the here and now and not the "ifs".


I don't know anyone who ever stated that this union is "out of get us". If anything, we grieve over the loss of power that was started with Al Shanker. If "political climate" which is often stated as the reason for accepting this contract was in fact an issue, then I would have to wonder how Martin Luther King and the founders of the labor movement succeeded when the odds and the political climate were so against them. They were met with violent attacks rather than just the violent words of our mayor.

Don't you find it strange that Randi is now forming a negotiations committee and using the same rhetoric that the opponents of this contract used such as "No more pattern bargaining"? Prehaps having foresight is a good thing. And although she has stated that she has an inclusive committee, by no means is New Action considered the opponents.

I don't know how involved you have been with union politics since coming to the NYC school system, but I can tell you that the power the UFT gained was due to the teachers who stood against the political climate and were brave enough to strike for the good of all teachers. The one good labor leader in this city is facing jail time because he stood up to the political climate. He at least took his role as union leader seriously. Both the UFT and TWU have in common is a rank and file that voted the wrong way.

I don't begrudge you the perk of getting a Masters on the DOE's dime. Is if fair? Probably not. Do I hold it against you? No.
In fact, I agree that teachers who are placed in hard to staff schools should receive perks. And I think most teachers would not have a problem with that. The problem is, work to retain our teachers who are already serving in these schools rather than outsiders.

I wish you luck in Turkey. I am sure you will get the position.

1:40 PM  
Blogger ms. frizzle said...

Chaz wrote, "I am convinced that the Unity faction of the UFT doesn't give a damm about us"

This was my evidence that some people think Unity is out to get us.

And in March, I wrote
Not because I liked the contract that much (I didn't) but because, assessing the political situation, I thought it was the best we could get (and I'm not talking about just the money). I wasn't seeing a lot of willingness to walk out, and Bloomberg had just won the election. ...
On a side note, I found the rhetoric against the contract to be very off-putting and unpleasant, far less civil than that of the pro-contract side.


As you can read above, I said that my vote was due to an assessment of the political situation. In no way was tone the primary issue, although you are correct that I have mentioned it as a concern and labeled it as "a side note."

Both the UFT and TWU have in common is a rank and file that voted the wrong way.

The bottom line is, many, many teachers voted for the contract. And if you want those same teachers to vote Unity out, the tone of your arguments is going to matter. Simply condemning the way people voted and equating voting for it with cowardice (e.g. your reference to MLK, Jr.) isn't going to do it.

2:02 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

I'm confused - if I were to move to NY and start teaching, I would get $5k up front, and upwards of $10k per year on top of what must amount to a starting salary of ~$30k annually? Great, so I make ~$45/k a year for *two years* - what then? The housing subsidy disappears and I'm left trying to live in NY on what? $36k a year? (assuming 2 years of 3% raises)

"Hey, thanks for coming here and helping teach in these awful high schools, but we're basically going to give you the shaft as we yank $10k a year out from under you."

Geez, no wonder the turnover rate is so high. The only way I would do this is knowing ahead of time that I'd get the heck out of there when they stopped giving me enough money to survive.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few things:

1. It's tempting to see the upcoming reorganization as meaningless shuffling ("Stuck in a rut? Try a reorg. Already did one a few years ago? Try another one!"), but the thinning of the regional level could be important. As you correctly point out, a lot of the micromanagement comes from there, not from the top.

2. I completely agree that we need to address the chronic teacher retention problem nationwide. I also agree that the housing subsidy program is a drop in the bucket. That said, I can't help but think many people who are attacking the program would attack any new DOE policy precisely because it's a DOE policy. The retention problem isn't going to be solved overnight; what's wrong with trying a small new innovative program to help with recruitment in the meantime? It's possible to walk and chew gum. This is not directed at you, by the way - just comes from reading lots of other comments on the subject recently.

3. More generally, it's easy to attack the housing subsidy as unfair, a misplaced priority, etc., but I have yet to hear critics propose a realistic alternative. I've heard people say, "reduce class sizes," "pay teachers more," "put great teachers in every class," and that sort of thing. Of course we'd all love to do that, and in a perfect world we'd devote the necessary resources to doing all of those things tomorrow, but this is real life, and none of that is going to happen anytime soon. It's easy to be the opposition - you just say "no" and wax poetic about utopian life. It's a lot harder to try to make policies that stand up in the real world. I'm not saying this housing subsidy or any other DOE policy is perfect; I'd just love to hear more constructive criticism. Other people could learn a thing or two from you in that regard.

4. Once again, you're right on about why the Unity opposition is doomed to fail. They're probably right that a majority is dissatisfied with Randi, but they confuse dissatisfaction with the intense hatred they themselves feel. You have to be a lot more nuanced to convince mildy dissatisfied people to reject an incumbent. And if all this sounds familiar, that's because it played out in the 2004 presidential election.

Sorry for being anonymous, but you probably know who this is.

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, one more, actually.

5. I think people instinctively associate militant unions (or unions in general) with blue-collar workers. Will teachers ever be treated as the professionals they are as long as they're represented by such powerful unions? I don't mean that as an attack on unions; it's just an objective political question. Teachers unions have a serious image problem.

3:10 PM  
Anonymous FakeHistoryIsBad said...

Anon 1:40,

If you're suggesting that the civil rights movement succeeded by ignoring the political climate, you need to go take some history classes. The civil rights movement was carefully timed to make a push when the political climate was right, and MLK was a master politician. His entire movement was designed to incrementally guilt the country into his corner, and he went out of his way NOT to appear too militant. He also realized he had to work with political leaders like LBJ instead of alienating them. The civil rights movement is a textbook example of figuring out what you can realistically accomplish, when you can realistically accomplish it, and resisting the urge to overreach.

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My reference to MLK was NOT about the rank and file, but about leadership and the overuse of the term "political climate" to give in to the givebacks, and I think you know that's what I meant.

Second, Chaz does not speak for me or others, so to use him as an "allness" statement is unfair. Chaz also supports right-wing conservative issues, so does that mean we all agree with Chaz? There are many things the so-called opposition to the contract say that I do not agree with, and do not support.

As far as the vote, I believe that the scare tactics used by this union was a factor. Also, chapter leaders who represent Unity were told to talk it up. Many who voted Yes admitted to wanting the money--which was at least honest and I respect that reason over all others. However, 40% is a big chunk and not something to scoff at.

You never answered my question about Randi changing her tune.

As far as constructive suggestions, start with discipline.
Years ago a student could lose a "special", now that is illegal.
Somebody thought it would hurt their little feelings if they missed Gym or a trip regardless of their behavior issues. I would love to see that decision reversed.
Instead of going to Gym, a student could stay with the teacher during the prep and do the homework he/she refused to do all week. It worked only because missing Gym works wonders.

The so-called Discipline Code is a joke. Principals don't want to be bothered and it's all up to the classroom teacher. From what you have written in the past, your school has a good discipline policy and your principal is someone you respect. Prehaps if you were in a different situation, you would have a different view.

Years ago the DOE "recruited" teachers from Spain and Mexico for bilingual positions. When many decided to quit, they were interviewed on TV, and the top reason was lack of discipline and how lax this city was compared to where they came from.

I will tell you this much, I have been a union loyalist for many years and still am. I hate it when teachers let principals walk all over them because they are afraid to grieve. Now, losing the right to grieve a letter, makes this situation worse. How is that empowering us? However, I do have issues with the current leadership who btw kept us in the dark about this new provision until it was a done deal and reported in the papers.

As far as Turkey is concerned, this is holiday week for many and there is a strong possibility you will hear good news in the weeks to come. I doubt they would contact you and give you false hope. But if that be the case, shame on them!

4:03 PM  
Blogger aphrikandreema said...

It's really interesting to read the comments from people that have been teaching in NYC for a while. I can just imagine the frustration levels and the unfairness of the whole housing subsidy. I applied to NYC public schools a month ago and recently received a job offer with a new small school that's opening in Sept 06 in Brooklyn. Now I dont know whether to decline this job offer so that I can qualify for this housing subsidy...I do really want to teach at this school though but i cant pass up the housing money just because of that...or can I?....I've applied anyhow and if I get accepted I guess I'll have to make a hard decision and make a hard decision and make an enemy with the principal that's counting on me:(
Keep up your blogging- hope the FBright works out for you...crossing fingers for you:)

5:15 PM  
Blogger NYC Educator said...

"And if all this sounds familiar, that's because it played out in the 2004 presidential election."

I must comment on this. The 2004 campaign was one of slander and libel, often aped uncritically by the remrakbly lazy press, which portrayed a decorated war volunteer as a coward, and a son of privilege who avoided Vietnam through means unavailable to most, as a hero.

Kerry's failure to openly confront blatant lies was certainly a contributing factor to the ultimate result of one of the closest campaigns ever for a sitting president.

The GOP campaign also relied heavily on hatred, shamelessly manipulating prejudices of the ignorant against homosexuals so they'd march to the polls and vote against equal rights.


If that weren't enough, the head of Diebold publicly promised Ohio to GW Bush, Democrats waited hours in the rain to vote, the state campaign was openly run by a Bush partisan, and there is no way we can ever verify votes cast in either Florida or Ohio.

And anyone who thinks Karl Rove is not a political genius, and the most vicious and effective trader in slander, invective, lies and whisper campaign is laboring under a tremendous misconception.

So this comparison, apt though it may be, does not much support the commenter's conclusions.

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To FakeHistory:

MLK raised civil rights issues during Kennedy's term. However, according to your history facts, those who stood up for their rights in the South did not meet with any violence, and civil rights workers and leaders were never murdered because the political climate was right. Those segregationalist were just a bunch of nice folks who felt guilty and wore those nice white-hooded robes because they were fashionable.

And the labor movement never met resistance because the climate was just right. So strikers were never beaten, and if they were, big business felt guilty about it and gave in to their demands. What about that guy who stood up to the tanks in China? And the workers in Poland who took a stand? Did those dictators feel guilty too?

Thanks for the lesson. My history books unlike yours must have exaggerated the facts.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Chaz said...

Ms Frizzle:

There is a difference between a union not caring about it's teachers. That's what I said. Then saying that the union is out to get us as you said. If you can't see the difference, you are truely naive.

Anon:

Stop with your idological crap anyone to the right of Howard Dean is a right winger based upon your statements.

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chaz,

Which statements were idiolgical crap? That Randi shouldn't use "political climate" as an excuse for not standing up to Klein? Or do you feel that the civil rights and labor movements were leftist causes and the violence justified?

Just wondering?

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Norm said...

On climate of the times:
I recently was in Birmingham and Montgomery Al. and visited the civil rights museums. Talk about climate - dogs, hoses, shootings, the Klan, etc. And that was in 1964.

What was the climate when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in 1955? Emmitt Till was mutilated and lynched that year. Some climate! It was Parks' action that led to the events that activated Martin Luther King's movement.

When were the unions built in this country? Wasn't it in the horrible climate of the depression in the 30's?
If we had the UFT leadership philosophy in the civil rights and union movements people in the south would still have separate facilities and workers would still have a 6 day work week.

12:44 AM  
Blogger Chaz said...

anonymous;

Your statement that I support right-wing conservative issues. Which means you don't read your own comments.

I am not an idologue and never will be. To paint me in a political sector is more an indication of your political narrowness and your intolerant nature of people who have different opinions than you.

Why do you post as anonymous??????

12:17 PM  
Blogger John said...

If you want a great book, read Dave Egger's "Teachers Have It Easy: The Small Salaries and Large Sacrifices of America's Teachers"

I'd really highly recommend it

1:49 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

What post were you looking for?

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