The Blog That Was A Decade In The Making! Part Six

19 Oct

October 19, 2011

Part One can be found here,
Part Two is here,
you can find Part Three here,
Part Four is here,
and Part Five is here.

Most people who send their kids to school don’t fully understand who runs the school. Ask most people who runs their child’s school, ask who is in charge, and they’ll say the Principal. They’d be correct, but that isn’t the full answer.

The teacher’s union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), can wield a very big influence on the running of a school, but it varies from school to school. The middle school where I started had a chapter, all schools do, but it was invisible. Despite having a lousy anti-teacher Principal, none of the teachers were interested in the UFT. In fact, the UFT representative’s main job was to put union letters in mailboxes once in a while. Had the union been active it might have saved me from much of the harassment I was put through. On the other hand, Horror High had a very militant union and it ruined the school. That is not hyperbole.

Before I continue, let me remind you that unless I specifically say otherwise I am using aliases. However, I have to say honestly that no matter how you perceive what I am soon going to say, I want it to be clear that a teacher with a problem could find no greater ally than our UFT rep, Mitchell. He was a bulldog, tenacious and nearly-unstoppable. He would back any teacher in the school to the hilt. And I speak from personal experience. Simply put, he was a guy you’d want in your corner.

But it was those same assets that destroyed the school. And I mean that literally.

I don’t know what started it, but from the day I walked into the school Mitchell was in a personal death match with the Principal, whoever it happened to be at the time. And remember, we had a revolving door of Principals for years. For whatever reason, Mitchell was determined that HE was the power in the school. And it was easy to see why. While Principals came and went, he was always there. He was the constant. He was always in power- and a UFT rep is powerful. In some ways he was in the same position as our corrupt AP, Mr. Anderson. But while Mr. Anderson was a thief, and nasty on top of it, Mitchell was not. He could be a stickler for the rules when he wanted to be, but he amassed a lot of power simply by honestly gaining the faith of the staff- at one point almost everyone must have owed him thanks for helping them out of a jam. In some ways he led the school.

You might want to do a little Googleing. While I am not naming names in these posts, I have given away the name of the school often enough in some of my oldest posts. You can find them in my index, or a Google search of “horror high Brooklyn” will put you on the right track. You should soon find a lot of negative articles about the school, including a student walkout. The takeaway from those stories should not be how bad the school is, the takeaway should be that every article and negative quote came from one source, Mitchell the UFT rep (or his assistant, “Captain Educator.” And I did not make that up, the guy actually called himself, anonymously, Captain Educator.) In what possible way could those articles help the school? I have no clue. But they did directly lead to its being broken up.

By the time Mr. Stevens was in his second term as Principal, he had enough clout to stand up to Mitchell. And Mitchell turned militant, taking the chapter with him.

It was personal, no doubt, on both sides. Aside from the union rep hating the Principal and vice versa in the same visceral way that cats and dogs hate each other, it was clear that they really disliked each other as people. The Principal was no prince himself. He was not as perfect as you’d want him to be, nor was he as honest as he should have been, but he liked me and I had a good working relationship with him and when I had trouble with the DOE he stood by me and did me a big favor. I got along with both men personally and professionally, and in their own ways they were both good for the school, but in the UFT vs. Principal battle I was firmly behind the Principal. I might not have liked everything he did, but I think the vast majority of his decisions were done for the good of the school.

On the other side, I could not believe the number of emergency meetings that were called by Mitchell over nonsense, the serious talks of walkouts and strikes, the negative information being leaked to the press, the general tone of nastiness, and ultimately, the politicization of the school that resulted in it being shut down.

Let me say that nothing that was in the press was factually untrue, but it was exaggerated and horribly exploited for purely political means. (I mean you, Assemblyman William Colton, you complete political hack. And yes, that IS his real name.)

But more on him later.

At some point Mitchell had tried for and failed to get a position in the UFT hierarchy. He became so bitter that he stepped down and in the next election actively supported his hand-picked successor, a newbie to the union who was also a well-liked (if not exactly full of personality) teacher from my own department. She was calm and cool and still finding her way as union rep and as a consequence she actually worked with, not against, the Principal. They got along, they worked together, they even compromised with each other. This is not to say that everything that ever went wrong suddenly went right, there were still problems, but with the union and the administration getting along, things got done and the whole tone of the building had changed for the better. And of course that pissed Mitchell off.

It was personal. It was all personal. The school was working? No good. The staff was happy? That’s a problem. People seemed to like the Principal? And Mitchell had no authority? That could not stand. Because as a regular teacher and not a union rep, he was only as good as the rest of us. He wasn’t even a department lead. He had to answer to his A.P. like everyone else.

As for me, I was getting more authority over things in my department. I had over time become a Model Teacher, a curriculum writer, a program coordinator, and various other things that, although the titles were nice, had no real power in the school. However, they gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted within the four walls of my classroom. I was NEVER told what book to teach. I CREATED my curriculum. Inside my room, I was happy.

But Mitchell wasn’t. Hating every second of not being in charge, he turned against his successor and mounted a nasty campaign to get his job back and he won. And the school went right back to Hell with him.

The UFT’s troubles weren’t limited to petty union representatives. The union was run like a cult by Randi Weingarten. (Real name.) I cannot count the times we were told how to vote because “that’s what Randi wants.” Countless meetings were launched with “Randi wants you to” and concluded with “do it for Randi.” (Not that I listened, but almost everyone else did.) Randi was more than a woman, more than our union leader, she was a deity to those who believed in her. All of her inner circle and the higher union positions believed in her with an almost Jim Jones-like fervor. But to me, it was obvious that she was only in it for herself. We were all members of the Cult of Randi. It was clear to me that everything she did was not for the good of her union members, it was for the good of Randi Weingarten. And I was proved correct when after she stepped down from her post, she was rewarded with a cushy job in the city government she had spent years railing against.

From The New York Sun, February 2005: “Weingarten is very active in city politics as well, and has been described as a “kingmaker” in New York City mayoral politics due to her union leadership position.”

The UFT serves, or claims to serve, the students and has their needs at heart. That cannot be. By its very nature, a teachers union is there to protect the teachers’ interests. Sometimes that isn’t a problem as what is often best for the teachers is also best for the students, like smaller class size. But when the union protects weak or incompetent teachers, makes it nearly impossible to remove a bad teacher from the classroom, and forces teachers who ultimately do get removed to be placed in suspension centers (“rubber rooms”) where they check in and sleep, go online, or read the newspaper all day- at full pay, taxpayers’ expense- the student’s best interests are in no way being served. The UFT does an admirable job at protecting teachers, but stop and think a second the next time they say they are doing what is best for the students. I was once at a union meeting when it looked like the city was going to play hardball with a new contract and the worst teacher in the school (and crappy human being) Mr. Llewellyn stood up and delivered a tearful speech in support of the union. He was deathly afraid of losing his job if new standards were put in place. That was a man who would never last a week in a private sector job but he had it made in a New York City public school where incompetence is protected and professionalism is ignored.

The bottom line is, though the school had legitimate troubles, a personal vendetta by a petty man threw us to the wolves of local politics. It turned what was an underperforming and fairly troubled school into a political club wielded by corrupt politicians whose only use for the school was to advance their own careers at the expense of the careers of many fine teachers and the education of the children.

I am ashamed and disgusted that I didn’t walk out when William Colton showed up at a graduation ceremony and spoke to the graduates about his love for the school. That was just after we were told it was being shut down.


Part One can be found here,
Part Two is here,
you can find Part Three here,
Part Four is here,
and Part Five is here.

5 Responses to “The Blog That Was A Decade In The Making! Part Six”

  1. bmj2k October 19, 2011 at 12:16 am #

    My apologies to Jrd Skinner for not taking his wonderful editing advice and simply adding a period. It was the lazy way out.


  2. Thomas Stazyk October 19, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    Incredible. I’ve seen similar things in business in terms of personal vendettas and politics ruining things but I thought there was more altruism in education (at least until I started reading this series!)


    • bmj2k October 19, 2011 at 6:23 am #

      This series is wrapping soon but I think the final installment will end with a look at some of my coworkers, who by and large were altrusitic and caring. But in general, the higher the person was, the less they were in it for the kids. And next week’s Part Seven will show this in stark reality.

      Part Eight is a look at the Regents Exam and I think Part Nine will wrap this series up, BTW.


  3. Mac of BIOnighT November 3, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    Ouch… I can tell there a fine crescendo here: the previous installments were about small corruption in small circles, here corruption is getting big time… depressing and even scarier.


    • bmj2k November 3, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

      Bad as this was, Part 7 is the one that hurt me to write.


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