Certification expiring, definitely done teaching

The first thing I have to say is this blog was planned for today. It doesn’t have anything to do with Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision on public unions. Instead, it has to do with the calendar.

teaching certificate

The reason, as you see in the picture, is that my Florida teaching certificate expires tomorrow and since tomorrow will be Saturday, that really means today. I never had any intention of returning to a classroom, and never took any courses to do so. In fact, I left Florida, and it’s a lot harder to transfer teaching licenses from state-to-state than it is for driver’s licenses. Instead, I’m happily in the company of former teachers, some of whom left the classroom decades ago for their own reasons, and moved on with no regrets.

I became a teacher because I’ve always tried to help people. Before starting in 2006, I spent more than ten years successfully selling TV newscasts and web articles to the public, so they knew what was going on and became better citizens. I’ve worked all shifts at all hours, depending on resource needs and breaking news.

I may have come from a unique background but I did a whole lot more than spending eight years as a public school teacher in a large urban district. I became well aware of school districts’ needs, including the students, parents, teachers and other employees that depend on them.

I worked most of that time in Miami-Dade County, the fourth largest school district in the country. Broward County, where I worked briefly, is the sixth-largest. I found out how things get done in large bureaucracies. Those neighboring places are among the most diverse areas of the country with many needs ignored in the state capital, as I wrote in Wednesday’s blog.

2008-11 fall fest wild things are
Nov., 2008: classroom door after studying “Where the Wild Things Are”

My opportunity to teach came two years after returning to Florida from Philadelphia for family reasons. I was pretty much thrown into the classroom at Hubert O. Sibley Elementary (now Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy, named after the longtime president/CEO of the South Florida Educational Federal Credit Union) in the middle of the year. The regular 2nd grade teacher was about to go out on maternity leave. I had no formal training and scrambled to pick up as many of the regular teacher’s routines as possible, but my colleagues — who became like big sisters — helped by explaining lesson plans, while I knew how to make photocopies for them. Our relationship strengthened from there!

hubert sibleyThat was during the day. At night, I spent the next few years driving to schools around the district, taking the education classes I didn’t take while in college. It was hard work, and long days and nights, but I had students to use as examples while studying for my official teaching certification, and luckily the classes were sponsored by the district. That’s how much they needed teachers.

I moved to 1st grade for my first full year and got my students from the start. The one-year age difference was big for those children and they were out to please. I also benefited from a new team of teachers and best practices. My colleagues in all grades voted me Rookie Teacher of the Year.

Eventually, teachers moved or retired. I wasn’t the new guy anymore. Instead, I was grade chairperson.

My nights changed, as well. Instead of going to certification classes, I was getting busy getting schooled for state endorsements in English for Speakers of Other Languages and Gifted.

science projects sibley
Science projects my classes voted to do, and did according to the scientific method, included “Which kind of drink cleans pennies best?” and “What kind of laundry detergent removes dirt stains better: liquid or powder?”

Due to my different background than other teachers, the administrators “asked” me to figure out and run the school’s website. When we switched from actual gradebooks to putting in attendance and grades online, I was the point-person for any teacher with problems. In the middle of every quarter, I stayed hours late, printing out progress reports for every student in the school and dividing them up by teacher to be distributed. At the end of every quarter, I stayed hours late again, printing out report cards for every student in the school, and dividing them up by teacher.

smoke safety
Fire officials had students walk through a special trailer to teach them the danger of smoke.

That wasn’t it. Every year, I was removed from class to help administrators with the school’s annual School Improvement Plan. I sat at the assistant principal’s desk, in front of his computer, offering assistance with typing, technology and math. Eventually, after a few years, I spent days before that out of the classroom and in another school’s auditorium, full of assistant principals learning the district’s new procedure for that year.

May, 2007: my father teaching my class about dentistry at Sibley Elementary's Career Day
May, 2007: my father teaching my class about dentistry at Sibley Elementary’s Career Day

It was around this time the principal chose me to run a 12-month after-school/summer program if only we’d win the grant, so I spent more time away from the classroom, in an office with a computer, writing text and filling in blanks. The principal insisted that even if the money came through, he’d see to it that I stayed grade chair for 1st grade. Unfortunately, the grant wasn’t made to be.

I stayed too busy as grade chair for 1st grade, secretary of the school’s Educational Excellence School Advisory Council (EESAC, a Florida thing), and point-person for its annual Career Day.

Fall, 2006: I brought WTVJ NBC6 meteorologist Paul Deanno visited Sibley Elementary's Saturday Academy to teach about weather
Fall, 2006: I brought meteorologist Paul Deanno visited Sibley Elementary’s Saturday Academy to teach about weather

Separately, I got then-WTVJ meteorologist Paul Deanno to speak to children attending the school’s Saturday enrichment classes. (Paul is now chief meteorologist at KPIX in San Francisco.) Also, WPLG news anchor Calvin Hughes did a question and answer session with some of our 5th graders in the studio, through the school’s closed-circuit TV station. When things seemed to be going slowly, I quietly passed a handwritten question to the student interviewer. The assistant principal noticed and looked amazed! (I’d worked with both Calvin and Paul at Philadelphia’s KYW-TV.)

June, 2012: receiving my "Apple" for winning Teacher of the Year, the first to say Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy
June, 2012: receiving my “Apple” for winning Teacher of the Year, the first to say Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy

Then, I was elected Teacher of the Year and was told on the afternoon of the banquet in my honor that I was so good, I was being moved from 1st grade gifted to 3rd grade inclusion. Those were the lowest students, most in 3rd grade for the second time. Some reward!

Then, when I had to change classrooms for the first time in years — upstairs for the first time ever — I was made the union’s shop steward. I tried my best with each one of my growing responsibilities (including grade chair for 3rd grade, despite working with much more experienced teachers who actually knew the 3rd grade curriculum!), but decided that was probably going to be my final year at that school. There was only so much one person could do.2012-06 Teacher of the Year marquee

I’ll never forget the cries, up and down the 3rd grade hall, when the results of the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) came out. If a student failed the reading section, that student would probably have to redo 3rd grade because that’s when a students stops learning to read and starts reading to learn. The test was so important, absolutely nothing got in the way before it. Any extra resources were directed towards 3rd grade, not to any younger students, as if reading comprehension doesn’t take years. Were those younger students supposed to suddenly rise up in 3rd grade after pretty much being ignored for years before? When I taught 1st, the principal asked all teachers of younger students to give up our last hour of the day, which was our planning time, to help the 3rd graders.

I couldn’t tell whether those children’s cries up and down the hall were happy or sad. Teachers were given a list of 3rd graders, not by whose class they were in, so we had to read the names in alphabetical order to ourselves, pausing until one of our students’ names came up, and then let that student know his or her future. What a way to be told! I think a full quarter of students were held back at Sibley each year.

Since then, the assistant principal transferred to the same role at another school and is now in federal prison for child porn possession. (It was not school-related.)

As for the principal, I’m surprised he’s still there. The exact moment I decided to leave Sibley was when his secretary asked me, as EESAC secretary, to sign a paper. Let’s just say there were issues with that paper. Too bad I had no chance to take a picture with my phone, but I warned the EESAC president at the time, who was also going to be asked to sign. Then, the principal called me back downstairs in the middle of a 3rd grade teacher planning meeting I was leading to explain why he wrote what he wrote. There was no excuse and I told myself I’d never be associated with anyone like that again.

I hear nothing but complaints from former coworkers who haven’t transferred out to where their talents and energy would be appreciated. The school’s grade has been C for the past three years, a D before that, and C for the five years before that. But the year before, I was proud to say we actually earned an A.

No, I don’t have a master’s degree. It would be nice, but there was no time. Instead, I think I’ve seen more things and done more jobs reliably without extra pay (other than for being grade chair) than most public school teachers anywhere have.

One was the funeral of a 1st grade student’s mother. His estranged father had dressed up as Santa Claus and knocked on their door. That’s when he shot the mother to death. The boy transferred out, to a school in Fort Lauderdale.

In 2013, I switched to a Jewish private school that happened to be at the synagogue where I grew up. (Actually, it merged with another and this was their new location.)

hochberg classroomMany of the parents were respectful but too many were gung-ho about all the supposedly latest technology and a teacher who was a TV producer, etc. It was such a change from parents who were mainly poor Haitian immigrants, simply happy their children would have a positive American male influence. And it was such a disappointment!

So much for smart kids! There were certainly some, but way too many were needy and wouldn’t have made it in public school. Of course I’m generalizing, but the only advantage in life they had was that their parents were rich. When you’re that rich, and there’s a train coming while you’re being driven to school, there will be an announcement not to mark any students late that day. Are there excuses like that in real life?

mandatory meeting
Mandatory meeting with three hours notice? What was so important? What if somebody actually had plans?

I had no problem with the religious aspects but the way teachers were taken advantage of never ended. That’s what’s in contracts when parents are lawyers. They pretty much owned the teachers.

hochberg turkey tango
Nov. 19, 2013: 2nd grade teachers Mrs. Guttman and I doing the Turkey Tango at a schoolwide show. That was the year Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincided.

I left in January, 2014. If not, I would’ve had to come up with an idea for a program and offer it to students, whose parents would pay extra for them to stay after school, with the school and me splitting the extra tuition money.

The school isn’t there anymore. No website. It ended up merging with another school. Not even schoolwide shows like above could save it. Good riddance!

The last place I taught was Colbert Elementary in Hollywood, FL, after taking a few months off in early 2014.

I started as a permanent substitute as the place was renamed Colbert Museum Magnet Elementary. The name and curriculum changes were tries at improving the school, or at least the test scores. I hope it worked out. Remember, this was Florida.

colbert classroom
April, 2014: my Colbert classroom

As I remember it, each grade had to choose one thing from the curriculum per quarter and show it in museum form. That meant decorating the halls, for one, and inviting everyone to visit for an evening. We in first grade did aquatic life at the end of the 2013-14 school year. I was fairly new but got by. Unfortunately, the walls weren’t too good at holding tape and probably had to be repainted several times since then.

colbert museum

I had a great summer in Israel but didn’t have it in me to keep teaching. I had just had enough. It wasn’t the school’s fault. There was a great principal, Patricia Yackel, who was able to recognize every student in the entire school by name. Amazing! I didn’t care much for the assistant principal.

It was the day after Labor Day, 2014, early in the school year, and I’d known I couldn’t take it anymore. When I left, I told the assistant principal because Ms. Yackel wasn’t in the building at the time. That was a shame.

Despite all I’d been through, I still feel better about public schools and think every child should have a good one near his or her home.

Also, I’m against those “school choice” advocates trying to take money from public schools and let for-profit charter school companies run some. They can decide who they let in and refuse, while public schools can’t do that, so charter schools have a distinct advantage when it comes to test scores.

I also don’t care for private schools since they can also admit who they choose and don’t have to follow the same requirements other schools do. Besides, they lobby state legislatures for money they wouldn’t need if the children simply went to public schools, which most can. Others go for religious issues, which I understand. Then, there are those who have, or claim to have, special needs and require special settings. Meanwhile, the school takes the money to supposedly lower tuition but as I wrote, require more of the teachers, who usually make less money.

Wednesday, I got an email from a Florida doctor with an agenda. You could say I stay on his list for an education, even though I don’t know how he got my name. This is part of what he wrote:

“The outcome of the Primary Election on August 28 and General Election on November 6 will determine the future of our community for generations. One outcome could lead to expansion of vouchers to the middle class. Another outcome could threaten the $20 million we currently receive. We have arrived at the crossroads and all you need to do is vote. …

“Jewish schools received more than $20 million this year from state and federal programs but middle-class families will not experience tuition relief until the Florida Legislature passes an Education Savings Account (ESA) which will provide every Florida family an annual per student scholarship of about $7000 for use in paying tuition at a private school, irrespective of income level.
“This year’s elections are a tipping point. Immediately after the election, the new Governor must appoint 3 new Supreme Court judges. A Republican Governor will appoint judges who favor school choice programs. Judges appointed by a Democratic governor will create a majority that will support lawsuits that block vouchers and even threaten current funding.
“If we maintain a pro-school choice majority in the Florida House and Senate, ESA’s are a likely reality within the next 2 years.”

His endorsements will come and we can bet who they’ll be, at least in the general election.

Then yesterday, I got this from a national group writing about its efforts in Pennsylvania:

“We have helped secure millions of dollars for Jewish day schools through government advocacy.
“This includes funding for EITC and OSTC (Scholarships Tax Credits), enhanced security, school specific grants, and more. ALL of our children have benefitted over the past several years. And, our budget successes this week continued that trend.

“There are 8 communities with Jewish day schools in Pennsylvania, and we aim to serve each and every one of them.
“But we simply cannot do it alone. Your support will make a real, lasting impact on our children and families.”

So the point here was to ask for money.

But despite the emails I receive, please don’t think of this as a Jewish issue. It’s one area where Jewish and Catholic schools come together, and public schools don’t get the money.

Some parents and politicians have their own agendas.

As for me, I missed writing the news, took a wonderful managerial opportunity in the Tri-Cities of VA/TN, but couldn’t turn down a chance to return to my beloved Philadelphia. (I don’t regret the return; just the workplace.)

Back home, I’ve written news about the school district, listening and writing about budget issues, cuts made in the past, getting money from the state, and finding (and paying) lots and lots of new teachers. Click here for an example of one of my articles. I loved doing this and long-term projects such as the Democratic National Convention and NFL Draft, because most articles involved shootings, crashes and fires.

Enough already, and onto something meaningful. This former teacher hopes to make an announcement soon.

Click here to visit the section 2006-2014: Teaching Time.

Please, if you like what you read here, subscribe to CohenConnect.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish. I’m also available for writing/web contract work.

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The necessity of public unions, now no chance for compromise

NOTE: Shortly before publishing, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he’ll retire effective July 31.

scotus trump usa flag

According to Axios, that’ll give President Donald Trump

“a chance to pull the court significantly to the right for decades to come. This is seismic — for politics as a whole, for the court and, ultimately, for the millions of Americans whose lives are shaped by its rulings. Replacing Kennedy with a more conservative justice would likely lead to new limits on abortion and LGBT rights, and could easily be the most consequential act of Trump’s presidency. … The confirmation battle will be intense. Republicans have just a one-seat majority in the Senate, and Democrats will be under enormous pressure from their base to try as hard as they can to block Trump’s nominee. Both sides are already prepared for a brutal fight.”

Kennedy was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, but has long been the court’s swing vote. Winning him over was often the only way to build a majority.

Anthony Kennedy
Front row, left to right: Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Back row: Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. Credit: Franz Jantzen, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

I was always a union member while teaching in Miami. Florida is a “right to work” state (that phrase makes no sense) and I didn’t have to join UTD, the United Teachers of Dade – but I did anyway for the benefits, protection, and because it was the right thing to do since they negotiated my pay in accordance with crushing state laws.

For example, in March, the Florida legislature passed new collective bargaining rules into law. It doesn’t target all public unions; just the teachers who spend more time with the Sunshine State’s children for most of the year than their parents. And the schools that feed many of those kids breakfast and lunch at free or reduced prices, while their parents let them starve or eat garbage all summer. According to the Tampa Bay Times, it requires

“local unions to prove they represent a majority of the teachers in their districts. The measuring stick: Having at least half of all employees eligible to be in the union paying dues.

“If they fall short, they could lose their authority to negotiate working conditions and pay with the school boards. And many might find themselves in that spot: Some larger districts including Miami-Dade and Pasco hover just below the level, as do some smaller ones including Calhoun.

“The big question is, what would happen next? Are unions that miss the mark dissolved, and their contracts along with them? … The answer remains unclear.”

So much for attention to detail and consequences, two things members of the Florida legislature could be taught! And most teachers are women, who these lawmakers are more likely to take advantage of. But I have to say, it also did the right thing on guns, the same month, and the NRA is suing. Details on that below.

But not being a union member would’ve made me a freeloader, and I write that with love and respect for many or my co-workers who chose that route. Some teachers complained about the money, and they may have had bigger families to support and student loans to pay back, but they would’ve made less if it wasn’t for the union. Now, that’s in dire jeopardy.

Earlier, as a member of AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (before its merger with SAG, the Screen Actors Guild) in Philadelphia TV, I knew what I was getting into, just as the public union employees did.

I believe AFTRA did the right thing and had the perfect solution by letting some members pay less, so their dues did not go into any political fund and did not influence elections in any way.

I was hoping a compromise like that could withstand today’s Supreme Court ruling that public unions cannot collect fees from non-members, but no.

Axios reports,

“The court struck down so-called ‘agency fees’ that unions collect from non-members. Those fees can only be used for collective bargaining, not overtly political activity.”

But the Court, by a 5-4 vote, sided with critics who

“say that because these unions are bargaining with the government, their bargaining is inherently political.”

Now, Axios predicts

“without agency fees, unions won’t be able to afford the lawyers and other staff who drive their negotiations, making membership ultimately seem like a worse deal.”

I’ll add, this seems lopsided, and a fair deal for workers – not too much but also not too little – ultimately helps everyone. Fewer union members mean less money for Americans and more people on welfare. Is that what we want?

Besides, to the justices of the Supreme Court, aren’t most things inherently political?

We all pay taxes for schools, even if we don’t have children attending. We pay for police and fire departments, even though we hope we never need them. (I wonder what percentage of the population actually uses their services annually.)

It’s not a good day to be one of your town’s finest or bravest. Its leaders are naturally going to try to take your pay and benefits!

There’s also paying for parks we don’t go to, and roads we never drive on.

But nobody can opt out of those taxes because they are needed for society and the future.

The critics claim membership in a union violates their First Amendment rights but money is not speech, unless you agree with the Citizens United case. (Wikipedia says back in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled “the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.” That gave nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations Constitutional protections that had gone only to actual, real people for more than 200 years, since the time of this country’s founders. Is it right they gave the rich more say and to do it secretly?)

us constitution
Article I of the Constitution, not to be confused with the First Amendment

Plus, the critics claim public unions aren’t fair because the workers vote, urge others to vote and then negotiate with the people elected. But don’t ordinary citizens have those same rights, the ability to assemble organizations and make requests of leaders on all levels?

A year ago, Forbes reported, “Across most developed nations, labor union membership is getting rarer.” It didn’t mean just the U.S.

Wikipedia reports the four countries that gained union worker percentages from 1970 to 2003 were Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium. Those aren’t countries you see on any “bad places” lists.

Finland Sweden Denmark Belgium

Here, our nation’s government was built on a system of checks and balances. No government nor private employer wants to pay their workers more, and the people don’t want to pay any more taxes.

Already, too many states and municipalities are in the red over pension obligations that added up over the years. It’s not fair politicians from the past gave away too much in order to keep their own jobs on Election Day. Blame them, not the workers. (Compare it to how we’ll leave climate and the environment to our children and grandchildren).

Wikipedia goes on to say, in the U.S.,

“Public approval of unions … declined to below 50 percent for the first time in 2009 during the Great Recession. It is not clear if this is a long term trend or a function of a high unemployment rate, which historically correlates with lower public approval of labor unions.

“One explanation for loss of public support is simply the lack of union power or critical mass. No longer do a sizable percentage of American workers belong to unions, or have family members who do. Unions no longer carry the ‘threat effect’: the power of unions to raise wages of non-union shops by virtue of the threat of unions to organize those shops.”

But we know good teachers need raises (along with support from administrators, etc.) or they’ll leave the profession, while athletes arguably make too much money. (And yes, educators know what they’re getting into.)

what teachers do Facebook
Facebook

So what do the citizens of this country plan to do to make things fair and right, in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling?

The Tampa Bay Times quoted the president of the Association of Calhoun Educators in northern Florida, which was formed just two years ago. Until then, there was no collective bargaining unit to support teachers.

“We had no contract. … They would say, yes, there is money for a raise or, no, there isn’t. Whatever they decided, went.”

That doesn’t sound like a place where people who value themselves or their profession would want to work, unless they have no other choice. Perhaps that’s what the good folks of Calhoun County wanted. That’s too bad because I can’t imagine a bright future there, with jobs and rising property values.

Union Yes Wikimedia Commons

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, wrote:

“With its decision in Janus v. AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court today turned its back on American workers—the educators, nurses, firefighters, police officers, and public servants who make our communities strong and safe.

“The Court’s ruling is a massive gift to the special interests and billionaires who already benefit from a system that is rigged in their favor and against the rights and freedoms of working people. They brought this case to silence our voice and make it more difficult to join together to advocate for our students and communities.

“But make no mistake: we will not be silent. We are organized and determined to stand together and fight for the resources our students need to succeed.

Take the #RedForEd pledge and stand with NEA as we continue to build a strong union that advocates for the opportunity students need to succeed.

“As we saw earlier this year in state after state that went #RedForEd, educators—joined by parents and community members—are a force to be reckoned with. We will do what it takes to roll back years of funding cuts and to make sure our students have up-to-date textbooks, desks and chairs that aren’t broken, the latest technology, and adequate school buildings.

“Now, we must continue to build this movement by coming together to advocate for students like never before.

So whether you are an educator, parent, or community member, please show your support for strong public schools by taking the #RedForEd pledge today.

“Thank you for your continued involvement with the National Education Association. Your support of great public schools for every child matters more and more every day.”

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten wrote:

“The Supreme Court may have ruled against us today, but don’t count us out.

“The right-wing extremists on the Supreme Court showed their true colors today. Their thirst for rigging the economy toward the powerful trumped the aspirations and needs of communities and the people who serve them. But, despite this decision, workers are sticking with the union because unions are still the best vehicle working people have to get ahead.

“Our union comprises some of the hardest-working and most compassionate people in the country. Every day, we care for patients, educate and support America’s children, ensure high-quality public services, and provide a world-class system of higher education. Together, through our union, we fight not just for ourselves but for the people we serve. When the Supreme Court overturns 40 years of precedent in an effort to weaken our ability to bargain for what we need, then we have to recommit ourselves to standing together in solidarity.

“Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, the Koch brothers and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner are celebrating right now. The best way to take the wind out of their sails is to show the world that, despite their attacks, we’re sticking together. Let them know you’re sticking with the union.

“Let’s be clear, the Janus case was about defunding unions. It was about who will have power in our country—working people or big corporate interests. That’s why the case was being funded by wealthy donors and corporate interests. First, they pledged $80 million to ‘defund and defang’ unions. Then, the Kochs, after receiving the Trump tax cut, upped the ante with $400 million to undermine public education and ‘break’ the teachers unions. Why? Because unions fight for a better life for people, and corporate interests see that as a threat to their power.

“Strong unions create strong communities. We will continue fighting, caring, showing up and voting to make possible what is impossible for individuals acting alone. And we will continue to make the case—in the halls of statehouses and the court of public opinion, at our workplaces and communities, and at the ballot box in November—through organizing, activism, and members recommitting to their union.

“When we fight for resources for schools, we’re fighting for students. When we fight for safe staffing standards for nurses, we’re fighting for patients. When we have the resources to do our jobs, all of society benefits. We may be a threat to the power of wealthy corporate interests, but by sticking together, we are stronger than their attacks.

“Throughout the day, union members have been sharing selfies and videos on social media. Let’s show the world that we’re proud to be union members. You can start right now: Tell them you’re sticking with the union. Show the people attacking unions that you value your freedom to have a better life and your freedom to have a union.”

SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, who you knew as Andrea Zuckerman on Beverly Hills 90210 but now serves as a vice president on the AFL-CIO’s executive council, said:

“The Court made the wrong decision; a decision in favor of increasing the power of employers at the expense of their workers. Without engaged workers, union protections become more vulnerable. This ruling is a direct attempt to weaken unions, the very organizations who allow workers to speak together as one, to have a voice in their wages, their safety at work, and their healthcare and retirement. The Supreme Court’s decision directly overturns a decision made by the Court in 1977. Have workers lives improved so much that unions can now be so blatantly attacked? Are workers all better off now? Are employers sharing in their success with all those who make them successful? No.

“This shameful decision only serves to strengthen our resolve to find ways to protect working families in this country. Now more than ever as professionals, we must come together and renew our commitment to speak as one. To be strong in the face of all attempts to minimize us. We know that fighting for a better life for you and your family is what unions do. It’s time for unions, and the workers who make them vibrant and strong, to show this court and those who would attack and diminish working people that this is unacceptable. When workers come together, workers win, and that did not change today.”

beverly hills 90210 wikipedia
Beverly Hills 90210 characters: Center: Dylan McKay; Clockwise from far left: Kelly Taylor, Steve Sanders, Andrea Zuckerman, Brandon Walsh, Brenda Walsh, Donna Martin, David Silver (Wikipedia)

WATCH: Florida Evans arguing with her husband over working as a black maid on Maude.

MORE MAUDE: Carol is passed over for a promotion due to gender discrimination.

AND THE MOTHER of all Maude labor episodes: Walter angry after workers at Findlay’s Friendly Appliances decided to unionize. This one starts with the classic opening theme!

It should be noted, also in March, the Florida legislature enacted “significant gun control measures in the state for the first time since the GOP took control … more than two decades ago,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The historic moment happened weeks after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 people – 14 students and three staff members.

Furthermore, Gov. Rick Scott – described by the paper as a “staunch Republican and longtime National Rifle Association member” – did not use his line-item veto authority to remove money from the sweeping $400-million school safety bill “for what many consider the most contentious part of the legislation – a program that allows school employees to bring firearms on campus.”

“The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, imposes a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases and bans the sale or possession of ‘bump stocks,’ which allow semiautomatic rifles to mimic machine guns.

“The NRA almost immediately filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of banning people under the age of 21 from buying firearms.

“Under Florida law, Scott could have used his line-item veto authority to reject the funding for a $67 million ‘guardian’ program that would allow some teachers to volunteer to carry guns after undergoing 132 hours of firearms and 12 hours of diversity training.”

rick scott bill nelson
Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) vs. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL)

It should also be noted Gov. Scott is expected to be running against longtime U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

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Why teaching isn’t for me anymore

(Yesterday, I wrote about why teachers have to give so many tests, why students have to take them, the many recent changes to teaching and learning in Florida, and what happened when I had to give results that many 3rd graders and their parents considered life-or-death.)

Fall, 2006: I brought former Miami meteorologist Paul Deanno visited Sibley Elementary's Saturday Academy to teach about weather
Fall, 2006: I brought former Miami meteorologist Paul Deanno to visit Sibley Elementary’s Saturday Academy to teach about weather

I wasn’t an education major when I stepped into the classroom. I’d spent the past 12 years helping put on the news at TV stations. (Truth be told, I did look into teaching in Philadelphia, 2000-2001. I observed a middle school class but didn’t want to go for a master’s degree, and ended up at KYW). Years later, when I was producing Web sites for WFOR-WBFS-WTVX in Miami, a family friend (Lois) said she’d always seen me as an elementary school teacher. I looked into it, and it’s pretty easy in Florida. You need a college degree in anything, and have to pass the fingerprint test. The rest can be taken care of over three years.

May, 2007: my father teaching my class about dentistry at Sibley Elementary's Career Day
May, 2007: My father teaching my class about dentistry on Career Day. Very little on the walls due to 1st grade SAT testing.

I got my start when a teacher went on maternity leave in early 2006, and went to work halfway through the school year. It wasn’t easy. I knew how to photocopy and the other teachers helped me with plans and discipline. (That year, the administrators decided half the class should be good students and the other half, the opposite. Either the high achievers can help the low, or it was a recipe for disaster.)

I came to realize the teachers I respected the most, those who’d been doing it for 30+ years, were frustrated. They didn’t know what they were doing because of so many changes, and they freely admitted it (Sheila). I told a friend of the family (Kenny) who’d recently retired that I was starting to teach, and he asked, “Why?”

Fall, 2008: My class displayed "Where the Wild Things Are" for the school's Fall Festival. Sibley Maurice Sendak
Fall, 2008: My class displayed Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are for the school’s Fall Festival.

There’s not enough time to teach effectively. I totally understand fire drills but have problems with dances in the hope that students will do well (rather than as a reward for doing well) and going ice skating because the Winter Olympics were going on. Students need more time to meet tougher standards, don’t you think?

In many cases during my eight years of experience, the parents were part of the problem. Many didn’t show up at conferences. They didn’t get their children to preschool, so students started kindergarten with zero background. Often (again, from what I’ve seen), they’re too busy with their hair, tattoos, and cars to get their kids to school on time, pick them up on time, or make sure they do their homework — as if the teacher wants more papers to review.

August, 2011: My nephew Logan visited as I set up my 1st grade classroom.
August, 2011: My nephew Logan visited as I set up my 1st grade classroom.

The problem was the opposite at the private religious school where I was in the fall of 2013. It was a class system and it didn’t have anything to do with education, but money. Too many parents thought their kids were perfect and wouldn’t accept the truth. (And that’s why a lot of the kids went there.) I was forced to endure too many get-to-know-you activities, do-overs for bad grades (on teacher-prepared tests), not marking tardy if there was a train on the tracks around the starting time and, of course, Miami Dolphins Day. The list goes on because parents pay a fortune (at least to most of us) in tuition. Then, these students are pushed with after-school activities. They’ll never make it in the real world under these circumstances.  Private schools can get away with almost anything. I respect people who choose to pay for religious instruction, but not those who pay to take the easy way out because their children have issues and wouldn’t make it in public school.

March, 2012: Another of my students' award-winning science projects, "Which kind of laundry detergent removes dirt stains better, liquid or powder?"
March, 2012: Another of my students’ award-winning science projects, “Which Kind of Laundry Detergent Removes Dirt Stains Better, Liquid or Powder?”

By the way, money is the name of the game at all schools — public and private – and all levels of government. Don’t forget that. Look for bond initiatives and contracts for building and buying.

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Unions in Florida are weak, because the land of sunshine is a right-to-work state. About half of the teachers take their union-negotiated salary and benefits without paying any union dues. Things would be better if unions could teach legislatures a thing or two. The United Teachers of Dade tried hard to recruit members. The Broward Teachers Union didn’t.

June, 2012: my name on Teacher of the Year marquee outside Sibley
June, 2012: my name on Teacher of the Year marquee outside Sibley

I taught 1st grade most of the time, but also 2nd and 3rd. We do what we’re assigned, and that could change in the middle of the year. I was lucky. One coworker (Cindy) had to move to a different classroom four times in six years!

Some folks think teachers are lucky to get summers off. No. They’re planning the next year based on new standards, and taking new classes or tests to teach subjects they’ve been teaching successfully for 30 years. That includes one Ph.D., right Dr. G?

Some don’t like teachers getting paid more based on their experience. The thing is, they don’t get extra vacation time based on seniority like in the real world. New laws limit opportunities for tenure and seniority. Right now in Florida, new teachers won’t see a contract for a period of more than one year. Who would work under that?

Bottom line: I’m past teaching. Over it. Totally. Many of my students were nice and tried hard. Some of their parents were helpful and considerate. Even some administrators. I wish them all the absolute best and wish I had answers, but let someone else do the teaching.

Why I’m happy not teaching

Other people seemed to love me being a teacher. They thought things like, “Oh how nice,” “The kids are so lucky,” “You’re a miracle worker,” etc., etc. But for the last few years, I couldn’t stand going into a classroom.

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Do you know what this means?

You probably don’t recognize a lot of those terms and honestly, neither do I. But that’s what teaching has become. And it’s not for me.

I can take criticism. I’m the first to admit when I’m wrong, or when something isn’t right. A large part of my resentment to teaching is how teachers are judged. Teachers can tell if their students aren’t getting it. Can one high-stakes test determine whether the teacher is doing his job well? The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 makes states develop assessments in basic skills to get federal money, but lets the states make their own standards! Are Massachusetts and Mississippi’s requirements anything alike? How does that help?

from Jeb Bush's Facebook page
from Jeb Bush’s Facebook page

Jeb Bush also thinks highly of student testing to judge teacher performance. (On the other hand, I think it should be one consideration out of several. New York is debating that right now. Do we judge doctors on their success rate if their patients smoke? Or dentists, if their patients eat candy and don’t brush?)

Last November, the Wall Street Journal’s Beth Reinhard blogged: “As governor of Florida from 1999 to 2006, Mr. Bush tangled repeatedly with unions over his efforts to link teacher pay and job security to test results, as well as to award grades to schools based on their tests scores, to expand charter schools and to give private school vouchers to struggling public-school students. After leaving office, he advocated those policies across the country as leader of the foundation (the who-could-be-against-it Foundation for Excellence in Education).” Bush won.

The teachers’ union is suing over the voucher program, saying it violates the state constitution by diverting money from public schools to religious institutions. I think, except for a few unusual circumstances, students should go to the school nearest their home and it should have the programs students need – before, during, and after school. A properly funded public school is a constitutional mandate in most places, and the right thing to do in all.

June, 2012: receiving my
June, 2012: receiving my “Apple” for winning Teacher of the Year, the first to say Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy

Charter schools run for money aren’t better. By definition, the almighty dollar is their priority. They pay rent to the owner of the campus (which could be the same person, or a family member) and pay teachers what they want. They’re less expensive. Many can even choose who they admit, and we all know they don’t want special-ed, disabled, and non-English speakers as students. They would hurt test scores. Proponents use positive names, like National School Choice Week, which just ended. Check out what this Washington Post blog says was just learned about charter schools in Ohio.

Jeb Bush’s FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) has been feared by 3rd through 11th graders since 1998 and about to be replaced with new assessments. It was designed to measure student progress on the Sunshine State Standards (SSS) benchmarks. Then came the NGSSS, the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards Then we were trained for the Common Core State Standards, which were pretty-much nationwide and probably better than most of what 50 different states require. Then the state of Florida decided against the Common Core. Many conservatives (but not Jeb Bush) say the CC takes away rights from the states. Either that, or lawmakers in Tallahassee wanted to pay supporters to come up with new standards. Anyway, the new Florida Standards were born. They’re apparently not too different from the CC. With the new standards come new tests: one for each class in each grade. (Kindergarten students already have to hold #2 pencils in some places, including where I used to work, even if they can’t write their names.) This year, the testing is going through its transition. Click here to see what teachers have to work with, by grade level and then by subject. Try to figure it out.

August, 2012: retiring teacher Sheila Cohen (no relation) helping me set up my new 3rd grade classroom, the one she'd vacated the previous fall
August, 2012: retiring teacher Sheila Cohen (no relation) helping me set up my new 3rd grade classroom, the one she’d vacated the previous fall

I’ll never forget the year I taught 3rd grade. Students have to pass the reading portion of the test or be retained. It’s state law (and multiple choice, because computers can do the grading). They get some second chances but most repeat 3rd grade, the year they’re supposed to stop learning to read, and start reading to learn.

One day, the assistant principal interrupted all the 3rd grade teachers’ lessons to hand over the results. Students’ names were listed alphabetically for the whole grade, not divided into classes. I had to slowly go through and let them know what the biggest part of the future of their young lives held. There was screaming all up and down the hallway, coming out of many rooms. I couldn’t tell if they were happy cries or sad. In my room, the inclusion class that had several students in special-ed, the results were mixed. I let the students who passed call home to tell their parents the good news. The others were clearly distraught. This was the only thing that matters in 3rd grade in Florida. (But try getting a class set of reading workbooks!)

The schools and administrators look better if more students pass the tests that were handed down. And teachers get bonuses if their students do well enough. (Late last week, I got a W-2 for $1200 from Miami-Dade County Public Schools that I had forgotten I received last February. These things take time. I hadn’t worked for the district in more than a year and a half.) You can bet the FCAT-tested subjects are given more than their share of teaching time, to the detriment of others. And 30 minutes of physical education every day? In many places, forget about it!

(Unfortunately, the problems go on and on. Tomorrow, click here for more, and details on why I left teaching and don’t regret it one bit.)