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A veteran teacher’s perspective on magic, old and new

Will “newer” always be seen as “better,” despite the evidence?

I recently received an email from a first-year sixth grade teacher asking about my classroom management system. I’ve taught for 37 years, making me a veteran teacher by any reckoning.

Flattered of course, I revealed the nitty-gritty of my ticket system. Long and short of it — when kids are good they get tickets. When negative behaviors transpire, tickets are taken away.

Tickets are used for class auctions or to buy lunch with the teacher.

Initially, I was pleased, but upon reflection, saddened when I realized no one has asked me about anything regarding teaching for years. Newer teachers usually mentor student teachers, even though it takes five to seven years to firm up a solid teaching base.

The education reform movement has stifled veteran teachers, pooh-poohing their knowledge and wealth of experience. A false association has been put in place: Because new teachers (many of whom quit within their first five years) are adept at computer use, they are seen as harbingers of the latest in fix-it-all education. Who better to implement the new stuff than flexible newbies indebted to the principal for employment?

By comparison, veteran teachers have seen a near countless number of educational fixes. And we survived them. Well, some of us did.

Normally, what happens on a political level is a new administrative junta comes in and flushes all previous magic systems replacing them with a new magic system. The new systems are lobbied and echo-chambered by shills for publishing and these days testing companies (often one and the same). Locally, this plays out with districts trying to comply with fads, trends, and laws they did not make.

Veteran teachers are bailing in record numbers because of the destruction of the public school system. We are dying from a thousand cuts. And the saddest thing? The newer teachers don’t know what’s being done.

Tickets work and veteran teachers have more than a few worthy and effective educational tricks up their sleeves that deserve appreciation. If there were a super duper silver teaching bullet, Socrates, Euclid, and Pythagoras would have used it.

Little secret…there ain’t no magic silver bullet. But some things work for some of us. Just ask any veteran teacher.

The solutions that we’ve seen 

Math: Math Their Way, Math Land, Mathematics Unlimited, California Math, Excel Math, Math Expressions, Dot Math, Math Manipulatives, New Math, Common Core Math, and more.

Reading: Campanitas de Oro (Spanish whole language), Impressions (English whole language), MacCracken Whole Language, SRA-Reading Lions, Open Court, Phonics, Dibels, Fluency testing, Daily 5, Accelerated Reader, Scholastic News, Listening Centers, Pearson Language Arts (Common Core), Whole Language, Phonetic learning, High Point, Read Naturally, School Thematic Approach, HLT, and more.

The How of Teaching: Self-contained classes, blended (switching classes), team teaching, combination classes, combination bilingual classes, after school programs, learning centers, projects, leveled ELA, immersion cooperative groups, pair-share, No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, Common Core, Goals and Standards, behavior modification plans, and more.

— By Paul Karrer, member of the North Monterey County Federation of Teachers. Find him online here

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Writing instructors begin to organize systemwide

Largest discipline of lecturers sets out to find common ground

For the first time, instructors in the writing programs on UC campuses met this summer to work out a common program for pursing their mutual interests. Some 469 people teach in the programs statewide. 

“We make up the highest membership among all the disciplines in the system,” says Jonathan Keeperman, a fourth-year instructor at UC Irvine, and a member of the UC-AFT bargaining team for non-tenured faculty. “We wanted to look at the labor practices from campus to campus, and talk about the best practices in classroom methods and pedagogy.”

Santa Barbara writing instructor and UC-AFT President Bob Samuels said, “This is the first time that we’ve met as a single discipline and compared data among the campuses. We focused on workload issues and how a systemwide contract sometimes has a hard time dealing with local issues.”

How do we come up with terms specific enough to address individual programs, yet flexible enough for a systemwide agreement?”

UC-AFT’s primary concern is the way lecturers are routinely mistreated at some schools, and considered disposable labor. “Many don’t get to the six-year mark where they might get permanent appointments,” explains Samuels. “They’re given classes term by term, earn lower salaries, have very little say in program, and have a lot of workload concerns.”

Salaries are one area with very clear differences. A report prepared for the meeting compared salaries from campus to campus using several computations — an average salary rate based on full-time employment, an average real salary that lecturers are actually paid, and a cost estimate for basic living expenses that allow a lecturer to survive without additional income. 

“The real salary is necessarily lower than the average salary, since nearly half of us are part-time employees,” explains Keeperman. “Over half, 272 of 469, are Pre-6, meaning we have yet to reach our sixth year Excellence Review and achieve any stability in our appointments.”

Almost all Pre-6 lecturers are on year-to-year contracts. Depending on the campus, there are wild fluctuations in the number of classes lecturers are offered, forcing many lecturers to teach at multiple schools. At Irvine the salary rate for Pre-6 lecturers is $49,852, and the average real salary is just $41,875, the report concluded. Even at the highest paying campus, UCLA, the numbers for Pre-6 are $50,915 and $47,860, respectively. The report, based on data from the 2014-15 academic year, estimates that it takes $56,860 to live in Los Angeles, and the same in Irvine.

Bargaining contract terms in such a variety of circumstances is challenging, Keeperman says. “How do we come up with terms specific enough to address individual programs, yet flexible enough for a systemwide agreement?” he asks. Instructors on both the UCLA and San Diego campuses bemoaned a churning policy that makes it very difficult for teachers to get to the six-year review. 

“While San Diego, for instance, had pretexts for not rehiring instructors, the administration doesn’t have to give cause for denying employment within the first six years,” explains Keeperman. “In this case we agreed on a side letter requiring the investigation of certain departments.” In general, instructors do better when the writing programs are independent and governed at least in part by lecturers, rather than being housed in another department.

In the last round of bargaining, UC-AFT had hoped to reduce the number of years needed to reach a review and permanent appointment, but had to focus on more urgent concerns. Keeperman adds, “We were able to get a mandatory review at three years, which requires the university to pay attention, and gives instructors some guidance on how to improve.” The lecturers also negotiated a base rate pay increase of 11.2 percent over the next four years.

Some campuses have made substantial improvements for writing program lecturers. Large ones like UCLA and Berkeley have more money and resources. At Davis instructors won a legal battle to gain a larger voice in working conditions and program operation. 

“Battles have already been won on some campuses,” Keeperman concludes, “and we need to draw on their experience. We need to learn how to go about campaigning, recruiting allies and making things better.”

— By David Bacon, CFT Reporter

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Anatomy of a victory: San Francisco faculty struck for a day and won

Local unity gains good contract, overdue pay raises

The faculty union at City College of San Francisco pulled off a one-day strike on April 27, despite the administration’s claim that the strike was illegal. To avert another strike, the college agreed to a union contract with substantial raises by July.

Strikes in higher education are rare. This was the first in AFT Local 2121’s 40-year history. Most instructors are part-timers and often lack the social bonds needed to take risky action together. Striking can be perceived as hurting vulnerable students. City College, with nine campuses built to serve 100,000 students, also faced the threat of closure due to an accrediting controversy.

Beginning in 2012, the school’s accreditor manipulated accreditation for political and other purposes, demanding massive administrative restructuring. For four years, faculty has rallied community and political support to keep the college open. San Francisco voters passed a parcel tax to better fund the college, and the accrediting agency is under national scrutiny and may lose its authority, but the fight has cost the school dearly.

With the threat of another strike this fall, the administration agreed to a 9.6 percent retroactive salary increase and a 10.6 percent increase for the coming year, for both full- and part-time faculty, with no concessions on working conditions.

Enrollment dropped, followed by state funding. Administrators planned to cut programs by 26 percent. And despite the new, voter-approved revenue, college administrators insisted on pay cuts. By the time the contract expired in 2015, faculty members were living on salaries 3.5 percent lower than in 2007. With the administration dug in, the union needed to build the capacity to strike. 

The “S” word was scary. Although there was the risk of alienating members who might view strike talk as reckless, agreeing to the concessions would mean permanent downsizing and less access for students. Agreeing, even to salvage accreditation, would cost the institution its soul.

Local 2121 leaders discussed the pros and cons with members and gave them the choice to prepare to strike or not. A Contract Action Team began to make one-to-one contact with co-workers. They asked each member, “Will you vote to raise dues temporarily to establish a strike fund?”

The strategy was to show the administration that faculty members were willing to strike. In one-to-one conversations, activists could address fears and concerns without asking members to commit to a strike. A vote to build a strike fund functioned as practice for a strike vote. Of 1,500 members, 650 signed commitment cards promising to vote yes, fewer than 10 percent declined.

During ongoing negotiations, administrators tried to split faculty between the roughly 650 full-timers and 900 part-timers. Because the strike fund conversations had addressed this, members anticipated the district offering full-timers a better deal. They were not caught off guard when the administration offered nothing to part-time faculty, but a 4.5 percent increase for full-timers. Since members knew the negotiating team would hold out for equal raises, unity held.

In September, the strike fund vote set a turnout record. More than 600 faculty voted, with 93 percent in favor of raising dues to start a strike fund. Next came a petition, with signers committing to strike if necessary. In March, the union topped its record again, with more than 800 members voting to authorize a strike, 92 percent yes. By April, the union had assessed 1,000 out of 1,500 unit members as positive toward a strike — enough to confidently call a walkout when needed. 

The administration and the union still had to get through state-mandated mediation before an economic strike could be called. Management used this process to its advantage, prolonging negotiations toward a second summer, when a strike would be weaker.

The union hit back with unfair labor practice charges alleging bad faith bargaining, which allowed the union to call a defensive strike for April 27. The administration claimed the strike would be an illegal pressure tactic, and threatened legal action. But even if a court finds against it, a one-day strike is over before an injunction can be issued. Union delegates voted to go ahead.

The strike was a show of force. Even though management closed campuses for the day, and despite pouring rain, faculty, students, and community members turned out to picket. Later in the day, more than 1,000 people filled San Francisco’s Civic Center, community support which gave faculty a great boost.

With the threat of another strike this fall, the administration agreed to a 9.6 percent retroactive salary increase and a 10.6 percent increase for the coming year, for both full- and part-time faculty, with no concessions on working conditions. On August 23, over 600 members voted to ratify the contract, 97 percent in favor.

Local 2121 is now leading a campaign to stop class cuts and asking voters to make City College free for residents and workers by passing Proposition W on the November ballot.

— By Michael McCown, a staff organizer for Local 2121’s contract campaign and strike. Read his full analysis in Labor Notes

SNAPSHOT: Community College Council history

San Francisco’s Local 2121 is the third union to strike among the CFT’s community college local unions. The Compton College Federation struck in 1983 and the Peralta Federation in 1985, although Peralta called its events “sickouts.”

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Family engagement coordinators perform vital outreach

New classified positions flourish under Local Control Accountability Plans

The first time most parents or guardians of a Berkeley student meet Jocelyn Foreman is soon after bad news has knocked on their door. Be it a death in the family, an eviction notice, a pink slip, or any crisis that throws a household into chaos, Foreman is there to help.

Last year, for example, a fourth-grader lost her brother and several of his friends while swimming in a local river. The girl was getting emotional support from her family, which has also faced homelessness, but she needed more.

Foreman formed a “caring circle” of fourth- and fifth-grade girls to discuss “every issue from grief to puberty.” 

“We’re all bearing something. We learn how to bear our burdens,” Foreman said. “Today that little girl is in fifth grade and shows up every day on time and ready for class. And I never miss getting a hug from her.”

Foreman belongs to a five-person team of family engagement coordinators based at Malcolm X and John Muir Elementary Schools. The team is well versed in culturally responsive practices and trauma-informed strategies. Its members often connect within families to assist children in all grades from early education to high school.

How can you discuss academics when you don’t know where your next meal will come from? How can you discuss attendance when you don’t have shelter?

In a circumstance such as the grieving fourth grader, Foreman typically sits down with the Response to Intervention team to coordinate services. The team includes stakeholders in the case, from the parents, classroom teacher and administrator, to full-inclusion specialists and mental health counselors.

Their academic mission is to close the achievement gap by ensuring that students have the resources they need to succeed. First things come first.

“How can you discuss academics when you don’t know where your next meal will come from? How can you discuss attendance when you don’t have shelter?”

Once Foreman helps the family secure their basic needs, they move to facing the student’s challenges at school.

“The primary goal of family engagement is to create systems that produce equitable outcomes for all students,” Foreman said. “We can’t close the achievement gap with fear-based or punitive-based approaches.”

Jason Arenas of the Alameda County Office of Education estimates there are about 55 family engagement positions for the 225,000 students in the county’s 18 school districts. Arenas said the coordinators have helped districts make more authentic connections with families, especially with low-income and non-English-speaking households and foster youth.

The trend is growing thanks to Sacramento’s emphasis on parental involvement. This is the third full year that Foreman’s team has been funded under the Local Control Accountability Plan that the Berkeley district launched in 2014.

Foreman draws on broad personal experiences. Before she began working with the Berkeley School District as an instructional aide, she helped run her family’s group-homes for troubled kids for 20 years.

“My biggest successes have been with foster kids,” Foreman said. “A lot of these kids go right under the radar. No one even knows they exist, but this has been my lived experience. My goal is to get those kids back to their homes and the schools they were attending.”

Foreman has also served as a vice president of her union, the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees.

“This is my passion,” Foreman said. “The district can’t put a dollar figure on how I feel when a family thanks me because they’ll be able to eat or have a place to sleep tonight. I feel like I’m the lucky one.”

— By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter

Act now! Financial aid to become a teacher

CFT-sponsored AB 2122 created the California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program, funded with $20 million in the state budget. (See page 10) Through district grants, interested classified employees may receive up to $4,000 annually for tuition, books, and associated fees necessary to complete a bachelor’s degree and obtain a single-subject, multiple-subject, or educational specialist teaching credential.

On September 15, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing notified school districts and county offices of education that applications are being accepted for the competitive grants. Urge your administration to file an application so that classified employees can take advantage of this tremendous opportunity! Applications are due November 4.

» Learn more from the CDE


Local Wire, Sept-Oct 2016

LOCAL 6554
Contagious…This spring Ann Marie Wasserbauer, president of the Association of College Educators, delivered 513 petitions from faculty and students to the West Valley-Mission Community College Board of Trustees with the message: “Come back to the bargaining table!”

The union is seeking a faculty-inclusive, shared governance-based structure. When school resumed this fall, so the did the local’s campaign. At flex day, faculty members held up signs demanding a “Fair Contract Now” and “Quality Education for Students.”

Steward Carol Brockmeier, chair and 14-year veteran of the Health Occupations Department at Mission College, described the atmosphere in the room as “contagious,” and said there were not enough signs for all those emboldened to take part. The faculty action was designed to jumpstart 
negotiations ahead of mediation in September.

LOCAL 4683
Memorial scholarship…The Antelope Valley College Federation of Classified Employees has established a scholarship fund in honor of Karen “KC” Curtis, a former CFT field representative who died suddenly on September 2. “KC did so much for our local and she really empowered me as a union leader,” said local President Pamela Ford.

Curtis, 61, retired from the CFT last year. She was the former president of the Compton College Federation of Employees, and a CFT field representative in Los Angeles for 22 years.

LOCAL 6215
Power at work…Nearly 100 members of the Cerritos College Faculty Federation rallied at the district board meeting September 21 to demand that trustees approve the tentative agreement already ratified by faculty, 283 to 2. The board had declined to vote on the contract.

“This is the power of collective action at work,” bargaining team member Stephanie Rosenblatt told the crowd. In the end, the board approved the contract 7-0.

After years of stalled negotiations, the Federation increased membership and faculty involvement. This fall at campus orientations, the local served breakfast to 70 new full- and part-time faculty members, landed a slot on the packed agenda, and signed up 50 new members. New faculty were welcomed by their union on their first day of work, and know to make the union a key part of their support network.

CFT honored for efforts to ban pesticide use near schools

The Californians for Pesticide Reform recognized the CFT for helping to protect schoolchildren and staff from hazardous pesticides sprayed near schools. The “Organizational Leadership Award” was presented after a July 12 action in Sacramento where 150 demonstrators delivered 27,000 petitions to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Many people believe the department has waited too long to protect children in 
California from chemicals associated with health-harming agents that can cause a host of life-threatening diseases.

Demands for new protections have grown since 2014, when the California Department of Public Health released a groundbreaking report, “Agricultural Pesticide Use Near Public Schools in California,” which documented the extensive use of hazardous pesticides in close proximity to schools in 15 agricultural counties.

Rank & Files, Sept-Oct 2016

Jennifer Russell, psychology teacher and member of the Novato Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1986, was selected as the Marin County Teacher of the Year for 2016-17 and honored for helping students learn about themselves through portfolio assignments and equipping them with skills necessary for college success in her AVID courses. Marin County’s superintendent said to her, “You have mastered the art of teaching students that achievement is much more than a number or letter.”

Jeff Freitas, CFT Secretary Treasurer, was named a Labor Leader of the Year by the Tri-Counties Central Labor Council, which represents Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties. Freitas has served as the union’s top financial officer for six years, guiding and monitoring the CFT’s annual budget and assisting AFT local unions by providing in-depth treasurer training. He also serves as a member of the AFT Racial Equity Task Force.

Margaret Agbowo, teacher at the Berkeley Technology Academy and member of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1078, was selected as the 2016 PBS LearningMedia Lead Digital Innovator for California. The national program recognizes tech-savvy K-12 leaders who incorporate digital media into learning. Agbowo will become part of an exclusive professional community paving the way for digital media use in classrooms and enriching local teaching communities.

Tim Killikelly, CFT Vice President and leader of the City College of San Francisco faculty union, AFT Local 2121, was named the Labor Man of the Year by the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition. The local partners with the coalition, a grassroots movement of low-wage workers fighting for economic justice and healthy, livable communities.

Matt Barry, an economics and history teacher at Live Oak High School and member of the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2022, was featured in a Capital & Main journalistic investigation into Uber’s marketing to teachers who, in need of additional income to cover basic living expenses in wealthy communities, moonlight for Uber. Read the full story and lessons learned. goo.gl/Adz9a4