Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Conversation with a young teacher.

Recently I had a conversation with one young teacher and this conversation reminded me the time when I was a young teacher. I was very energetic, didn’t have time to eat lunch because I was running around serving My students. I was working all 6 hours and 20 minutes plus, of course, I was planning my lessons and grading the students work at home, like anybody else in this profession. I think the society and ourselves have the same image of a “teacher” as somebody who is grading papers at home at night.
Later at home I started to think about Mr. Heart. He was “old” in 1987. He was one of those who participated in the historic strike of the New York teachers in 1975. The strike that created Tier I in our Contract with NYC BOE. He was our chapter leader. He was an English teacher who never took any papers home and was grading all of them at school during his 6 hours and 20 minutes working day. He really knew the Contract. He fought all our fights with the administration and always won.
< Mr. Heart was the one who made me sit down and eat my lunch during the lunch time. He just walked into my classroom one day and said that he would be eating his lunch here because if he stayed in his room it reminded him of work too much and he needed a break. I am still thanking him for that. Whatever’s happening with my life I always have these 45 minutes to myself, does not matter what school I work at, who is my boss, or what is going on with the students. I learned later in life how important this is for my health and my sanity. During those lunch hours we talked about things other than work and this was the time when I learned the history of American teachers’ struggle. I came from completely different background. Teachers in the Soviet Union did not work inside the school building all their hours. They were coming for the classes they had on the schedule and were going back home after that. They hated the schedules with “windows”, what we call preps, time when you don’t teach the class but the school is in session. They liked when all their classes were scheduled together so they could go home right away. Of course, nobody ever had 4 or 5 classes a day every day. This kind of load was unthinkable. My grandfather read an article where 2 hours lecture by a teacher was compared with a whole day work of a steelworker in use of calories and stress.
This is what I learned from Mr. Heart: Before 1975 New York City teachers taught at school their classes and then went home to grade the papers. Every teacher was writing off the taxes the office workplace at home for that purpose. All the time the teacher spent at school was with the students, 6 or 7 periods every day. This is why they went on strike and won. (I skip the financial crisis and racial discrimination at schools on purpose.) When Tier I was created the teachers got 2 preps, time to plan for the classes and grade the papers, and their home-offices were not eligible for writing off their taxes any longer. That was an attempt to create normal work conditions, like all other white-collar, educated workers had, which means, you work hard at work, but when you go home you become a parent, a homeowner, an investor, an athlete, a human, not a teacher.
Of course, it sounds good on paper, but the image of a teacher in the society and the teachers’ own heads didn’t change. We still grade the students work at home. Very few years past before one of our preps was misplaced by “professional assignment”. Teachers started to work in cafeterias and hallways. Tier II, Tier III, and Tier IV created conditions under which almost every minute of your day you are being watched. 5 periods you have your students, one period you have your “professional assignment”, you have to deal with all the memos and meetings during your preps. In the next Contract 20 minutes of tutoring added teaching time. We also have afterschool professional development, and staff meetings. All together made the work of the teacher back to almost unbearable. “Almost” because when Mr. Bloomberg came he finished the task. He took over and brought Tier V and Tier VI which took away benefits from young teachers, all without even signing a new Contract. I still can’t believe what happened with our profession in the last 12 years. Teacher became a vocational occupation for young people while they are getting their “real” job.
From: “Almost four out of 10 teachers quit within a year of qualifying, with 11,000 leaving the profession before they have really begun their career and record numbers of those who remain giving up mid-career, according to analysis of government figures. The exodus of new recruits has almost tripled in six years, resulting in a crisis in teacher supply in a profession that has become “incompatible with normal life”, according to Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. . . . with teachers exhausted, stressed and burnt out in a profession that was being “monitored to within an inch of its life”.
What does it really mean to be a teacher and how to last for 30 years. And the answer is … is … Only people who really and completely devoted to the kids’ education can survive all that. I can’t express enough how much I love and admire all my colleagues and how upset I get when observe small blown out of proportion conflicts that sidetrack us from the real and big problems that we all are facing.
The goal of UFT and its struggle for teachers’ working conditions should remain the same as it was in 1975: we want to have a normal work conditions, like all others professions.
Only self-employed business owners are capable of working for 24 hours a day, but they are not being watched, they are the bosses and they control their own income, but that's another topic.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

“Something is wrong!”

It was June 1, 1985, my husband walked in saying “Something is wrong!”
He just came home after opening his first bank account; it was the day of his first paycheck. He supposed to be happy and excited. We came to the USA as refugees from the former Soviet Union on December 20, 1984, so it took him only 4 months to find a job, and not just a job, he got a job of his dreams. Starting May 1, 1985 he was working as research scientist at New York University.
What could be wrong? And he told me the story at the bank.
I have to mention here that we are white. I am Russian and my husband was a Jew. In the USSR that was always a nationality not a religion, so I, probably, had to say not practicing Jew, but he did visit a Synagogue on Yom Kippur and he always knew he was a Jew.
He came to the Chase Bank on Fifth Avenue, the branch located next to the arch on Washington Square, with his first check to open his first account. Within a few minutes the account was open and my husband could go home. However, he noticed at the next cubicle another bank officer was serving a black man. The man was already there when my husband came in. The man was dressed very professionally, in a suit with a leather attaché. The officer kept asking the man to produce some kind of verifications for this and for that and the man very obediently kept showing more and more paperwork. This was a moment when my husband realized that the man was trying to open an account in the same bank. My husband left and the man stayed, we don’t know how much longer it took him to open a bank account. We do know that his English was perfect, he had great manners, and his attire was sharp.
Yes, something was wrong, but it took me many more years to realize that it was the first time we used our white privilege and observed the institutional racism.
It is even more difficult for me to recognize any kind of privilege because, first, I was a Russian in Russia and then I became a white in the United States. When you always belong to majority, it’s not enough to say you can’t imagine how the others live, you just never think about them, the “minorities”. You assume, automatically, they are exactly like you and leave that thought over there. I did know that some people were Jews and some were Georgians, Uzbeks, Kalmyks, or something like that, the name and the appearance were the only differences in my childish view.
As a child at school I noticed, of course, some kids teasing others by name calling, one of those names was “Jew”. So it did stick in my head, that it was a “bad” word. You can’t imagine my awe when I first saw this word written in one of my friend passport. The thought was: “She will have this “bad” word written in her passport forever”. How is it possible? How will she live on with that written in her passport? How do we allow such an unfair thing to happen to a girl on her 16th birthday? This was my first lesson on privilege and chauvinism.
Very soon I met my future husband and was introduced into the life of jewish minorities which was not much different from my own, with one exception: if we had never talked about nationalities in my family, now it became a topic which was brought to the conversations all the time, almost into every other topic. I did learn that it is important to people to be recognized not just as individuals, but also by the group they were born into. This is much harder to keep your identity surrounded by a different majority whose traditions you are being forced to adapt. This “force” is not visible, but suddenly a jewish boy takes the last name of his russian wife during marriage so “it’s easier for the kids” or Samuil suddenly becomes Semen to sound more russian. Who knows at what moment you completely lose you national identity and become a jew only in the passport? I learned all of that. I understood the pride of my husband and his family to carry the title of being Jews.
This is why my husband was so sensitive and recognized prejudice right away. When people are really proud of who they are they can respect others.
I am trying to pass this understanding on to my black students.
Last year one of the girls asked me about Malcolm X. The teacher in her History class told them that Malcolm X was for segregation and she couldn’t understand why anyone would be against such a great thing. This was the moment when all these things that my mother in law used to say about jews in Russia came to me and I used those ideas to explain to a black girl in America why one of the black leaders would teach his people about segregation. Here is what I told her: “I have never read books by Malcolm X, but I am sure he didn’t want his people to learn the traditions and history of white people before they learn the traditions and history of their own. First, you have to learn who you are and be proud of that, only then you’ll be ready to learn the story of other people.“ I think the girl got it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Celebrities and your credit card

I wonder, have you noticed that if a face of a celebrity appears on a package the price doubles? I always wondered about that. There are catalogs that sell jam with Paula’s face and bam, the jam costs 10 bucks instead of 3 or 4. Rachel’s face makes the kitchenware double in price.
Today I want to write about the cosmetics advertized as Cindy Crawford’s skin care. Meaningful Beauty defrauded me out of a lot of money with amazing help from Capital One credit card.
I understand that Cindy Crawford does not know about what is being done to people’s money under her name. She did not renewed the commercial in years. Some money, probably, drips into her account monthly, but I am sure she is not the one to blame. The only fault I can accuse her of is letting criminals use her name to lure unsuspecting fools like myself to buy into this skin care product.
My mistake was that I did fall under the spell and ordered the cream in August 2013. I am actually allergic to all these skin products and can’t use them on my own skin. However I do have a friend who is not allergic. I decided to give her a birthday present and I did.
When I examined my Capital One monthly bill, I noticed that I was charged for the product twice: at the beginning and the end of September. I immediately called, reported fraud, and canceled the card as lost or stolen. Imagine my surprise when I saw another charge of $39.95 in October!!!! The Capital one explained to me that just calling will not work, I had to fax a letter reporting the fraud so they could investigate. At the beginning of November I closed the card, faxed my request to investigate the fraudulent charges, and believed that was the end.
In December I was charged another $39.95 and in January the number increased to $48.95. I did not receive any product during all those months. After another telephone conversation 3 payments were returned to me, but by March I got 2 more charges on the closed account.
On March 6 I called again and this time we had a 3-way conversation. I was talking to both - Meaningful Beauty and Capital One at the same time. I was promised that the conversation was recorded and we agreed that Meaningful Beauty would close my account and return all the money to the Capital One and the Capital One will not charge my account because it is closed and has $0.00 available. You would think the problem was solved!!!!
On March 7 my card was charged $39.95 again.
Meanwhile everyday on TV I am forced to watch how beautiful Cindy Crawford looks when using the Meaningful Beauty product. I can’t change the channel, this commercial is on all of them. I have to share my story with all of you. Please, be careful. The face of a celebrity on the package does not mean the company is not a fraud.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Why do I love Astrology?

In 1995 by accident I bought a book. It was Lynda Goodman's "Love Signs". I instantly fell in love with the book, the subject, and the author. This book was written with such love for people, understanding the beauty and individuality of each sign. I read all 914 pages, not at once, of course, but slowly, sign by sign, and my life was changed for ever.
At first I thought I just got lucky and ran into the best book and the most kind author on the subject. However, very soon I realized that the more books I read and the more astrologers I learn about the more kind and understanding of the human nature I get. I noticed I do not judge people as harsh as I used to do. I became more understanding and forgiving. I had more fun learning how different we all are.
Learning about the differences and individuality of each person was the most important lesson. I am a teacher who by definition has to teach the same material to all these different kids. Since I learned astrology, my work became more interesting too. I started to teach each individual student not classes full of kids.
This does not sound as a new thing now. Many teachers and researchers started to switch to this strategy lately. We created individualized or differentiated instructions, studied multiple intelligences. In other areas you can see the same trends not just with teachers: our mattresses are made with individualized numbers, we have our individualized insurance plans, medications schedules, diets, and even sinks that are designed just for you. Everybody is trying to find his or hers individuality now. It seems there is even less pair pressure among kids.
Do you know that all of that was predicted by astrologers and explained long ago as influence by our astronomical movement in the universe. We are entering new astrological Era - Era of Aquarius. Let's move on with minimal suffering.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Stay at home vs. Go to work

I recently realized why it is so much harder to stay at home with children, especially little ones, then to go and work.
Just think about it, imagine you have to ran after a toddler whole day long, or sit in a cubicle and type and click on the computer. This one is no brainer. Majority will choose the computer, it can be a stirring wheel of a bus or a train. We still will choose the job over the toddler. Give me other situations and I’ll adjust my examples.
I know why!
When you are working you plan and execute. You are the decisionmaker. You are doing your thing in your own order, with your own pace, and you can stop and leave some of the load to the next day. Sometimes you have to follow a very specific steps to complete your shift, you still decide when to start and when to finish it.
When you are left alone with a toddler you are not the decisionmaker any longer, the little one is. He wants to run you will have to ran, he wants to dramm you will watch and listen to the dramming until he decides to stop. The moment you give in and decide to play alone he already changed the plan to another unexpected adventure.
I, personally, get exhausted in 10 minutes. I admire people who can stay with their children and not go crazy.
Funny thing, if it is your job, it’s completely different. I was watching caregivers at LYFE centers a lot. They are magicians. They decide when the kids will eat and when they go to sleep. They decide when the music goes on and when the lights go off. The little ones learn very fast to follow the routine. I think it’s because they know and recognize the professional hand. The people in the nurseries know that too. After work, they take off the uniform and turn into one of us, a parent who now has to deal with their own decisionmakers.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Scoring the Regents

Here we are: It's June, Regents Exams are over and graduation is coming next Tuesday. However, there are no scores for the Regents. We do not know who graduates and who goes to the Summer school. It's a mess.

Why do politicians have to make politics even where it does not belong? Why do we always have to find somebody to blame when we run into a problem?

We have a mess with the Regents scoring only because the new system is coming to schools and the system is not completely ready to be used to all exams. It needs some adjustments like any new car need the parts to start working together and rub on each other.

We need this new system because it's efficient to use computers for scoring, not because the "scores were inflated" by teachers. What a bull....

We need the new system because we entered the 21st century and we do everything on the computers and on-line, shouldn't we score the papers on-line too? Of course we should!!!!

I scored Chemistry in January online. It was great experience. Fast, efficient, no paper cuts or paper dust. Old tests were recycled and I got the disk with my students' exams for storage. I love everything about the new system. It's coming and it's almost here.

Unfortunately, there are problems: politics and money. Naturally!

Politics, because they have to blame somebody for everything, so this change is blamed on the teachers who can't score their students' papers, but by some mysterious reason can score other teachers' students work. Same people, same students, same papers. I scored them the same way I always did. I do not care if the student is mine or somebody else's. Other teachers are like that too. It's our job to grade papers, we've done this for years. I like the new system, I hate being lied to.

With the new system a "for profit" corporation comes into the old public system. Now we have to share our tax payers' money with the company which scans and converts all exams into digital form. How much is too much? How much is enough? Who do we have to blame if the computer freezes?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Who is more powerfull

This blog is about responsibility: mine or yours, our responsibility as teachers and as parents. When I first realized my answer to the question: who is more powerful I could not calm down for a while because it was against anything I had been taught.
It started easily, I was thinking of how much power I have over the lives of my students. I am the only one who decides if they pass or fail, if they can move on or get stuck in the same grade. How often I was considering to pass or to fail a student who produced a minimal amount of work, but could pass a test and could talk with me about the subject on equal terms. How often I was considering to pass or to fail a student who worked every day used a ton of paper and ink, but could not pass the test and would run away if I asked to talk about the subject. How many times I was holding a life of a student in my hands and deciding should I or should not I let him or her go on with their lives. Yes, as your life once depended on your teacher's decision, your child's life depends on another teacher's decision to pass or not to pass. We have this power over everybody at least once in their lifetime.
Subconsciously you know that. Nobody ever told you that, but you knew when the grade was not fair and you could not change it. You knew the power was not in your hands, not you, not your parents, not the principal could change this grade. A teacher could overused the power, by making you to retake a course. It can happen with young teachers who don't know their power yet. That happens less and less now, at least, in New York city.
I could talk a lot about the topic of grading, but it is not my question for today. I can talk about grading on another occasion. Today I am talking about power.
The day I realized how much power is given to me as a teacher over the lives of some strangers' children I, naturally, turned to my own children and it became obvious to me that I am completely powerless. They have all the power in the world over me. They can turn my life around with just one word.
Yes, we are physically bigger and stronger when they are just born, but they change our life so that it never goes back to what it used to be. We learn to live our new life which is turning around these new beings, our children. Their happiness make us happy, their dispare makes us go nuts with worry. You cannot sleep not just when they have colic, but also when they didn't come home on time. Don't blame the kids for not sleeping, it's not their fault, its their power talking and they are still learning how to use or not to use it.
One last thought: if you think you can overpower them imagine he or she ran away. Your life is over after that. They will be OK, they'll find how to survive without you.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Essay About Money

Here is another blog that spent a couple of years stored on Google without being published. This one I did not edit. I decided just publish it as is.

Everybody has some kind of a relationship with money. Some people try to save, some people try to spend, some people lend and the others borrow. We also have some kind of emotions towards the issue. The longer I live the more important the issue becomes.

I came from a country where we "didn't have money". Strangely, everybody worked, everybody had some salary, but the money was not an issue in the Soviet Union. There were hungry people, I think, but they were hidden somewhere so the general population could not see them. If we could not get something it was because "that" was not in the stores, not because we didn't have money for "that". Somebody might have a different image, but this is how I remember my youth.

When we came to America, money was not a big issue for us anyway. We had what we had and my husband soon developed a theory that, here you always have enough money for what you want: if you want to work on something you can get the tools to do the job, if you want to do sports you can get all equipment in the world, if you want to go camping, stop by the nearest department store and get yourself a tent and the matches. So we always did what we wanted for the lowest price we could afford.

This is why I was completely in shock when I read my daughter's essay about money. She wrote it in 4th grade in her English class. Imagine a little girl, 8 or 9 years old, writing about how bad money is, how money turns people into greedy creatures, how people should stop using money and life would become beautiful. Both, my husband and I, started to explain to the little thing that we tried that, we lived in a country without money and it was not beautiful. We talked and we talked, and we came back to the subject again and again. She didn't argue. She could not argue. We were so persuasive, knowledgeable, experienced. So we thought she understood.

Time passed by, my husband died, my children grew into adults, recently we came back to this conversation. Turned out She remembers it differently than I do. She says we were screaming like crazy, she couldn't say a word, so she decided not to talk to us about the issue, but she still believes the money makes people greedy and envious. This time, I could not completely disagree with her. The issue seems much more complicated now than it seemed 20 years ago.