Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers

On the "Bill Gates" post Anonymous wrote:

Many teachers have come to look at the PFT as being a shell of what it once was, a group that at one time did teachers a great good in garnering better salaries and working conditions. That time has come and past a decade or more ago. We now have secret votes for contracts and union positions and as such, few veteran teachers look upon PFT leadership as being a beacon that will lead our cause.In fact, the 50% policy was endorsed by PFT leadership, as were most issues that now affect the daily classroom teacher. This is a bleak time for caring teachers within this district. Parents should know what is going on.
January 28, 2009 2:25 PM


Anonymous said...

Moderator, the entire commentaries should probably be listed here so the reader can gain a better idea of the gist of the discussion. Thanks.

Questioner said...

Sorry if something important was missed- the intention at least is to pull out something that would make a good starting point for a new topic.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Tip: Link back to the internal comment. Links within might be a simple fix for easier context for readers.

Anonymous said...

John Tarka and his colleagues share much of the blame for the demise of Pittsburgh Public Schools. The PFT has lacked needed courage and backbone to deal with a dictatorial superintendent during these past few years, instead opting to sign away a huge portion of previously negotiated items which enabled better teaching conditions, better instructional strategies and the like.
A union is not solely about pay. At one time, PPS teachers were generally one of the best paid teachers groups in western PA. Now they are not in the top 25, regardless of what propaganda Andy Sheehan (Roosevelt mouthpiece) will put forward. Given what our teachers must deal with on a day to day basis, it is truly amazing that Tarka and his staff are still considered PFT leadership.
Wait. No it's not amazing. Secret ballots for contract votes. Secret ballots for PFT leadership positions. A secret society. How 007-ish.
Under Tarka's watch, pay has barely kept up with the cost of living, curriculum is farmed out to third parties who know nothing about urban classrooms, we are giving away grades and have made PPS the laughing stock among college admissions officers, discipline is much more in the hands of teachers than unwilling school administration and to top it all off, health screening has also been force-fed to teaching staff.
Someone with chutzpah will challenge the mandatory fee that comes out of each teacher's paycheck and goes to the PFT. Someone with courage will say that the PFT stopped representing the best interests of teachers long ago. Someone with guts will realize that just like central administration, there are a number of PFT staffers who conduct daily job justification activities that somehow keep them from being thrown back into the classroom. (After all, most administrators are failed teachers).

In the end, Tarka is just as culpable as Roosevelt for the demise of our district and perhaps more so. After all, here is a man who has the ultimate trump card of teacher walk outs and will only threaten to use it. Like the adolescent who makes threats, Roosevelt stopped taking this guy seriously almost from the start.

Questioner said...

Can someone explain the secret ballots? Who is voting with these ballots? If it is the general membership of teachers, wouldn't secret ballots protect a teacher from retribution if the teacher voted against administration policies? Or is this the union administration that is voting secretly and so not accountable to its membership?

Anonymous said...

You nailed it, questioner.
It's almost third world in nature. I don't think the retribution issue is a factor where union issues are concerned. I do have a sincere distrust of any voting done in the manner that the PFT routinely conducts contract or leadership issues.

And let's be truthful here. As the the teaching staff has aged and many have retired or are nearing retirement, we are losing a different kind of person which is reflective of the types of people Pittsburghers generally are. Old timers understand the need for solidarity, the idea of living by your contract, the idea of standing up to outrageous practices which don't put the kids first. Old timers would have laughed at the last two contract proposals and would have walked. Moreover, old timers would have laughed at the thirty day strike limit and basically said, come and arrest us.
Younger teachers live more in fear. They live more as "I" people than "we". They fail to think of the bigger picture. That's the leadership's fault too, in not pounding the idea of solidarity into them.

Anonparent said...

I'd just point out that this isn't a Pittsburgh problem. Read up on NYC schools and their union -- and Bloomberg just said that he'd need to cut "14000 jobs" in a district with huge class sizes already.

Part of this "reform" movement, even on the "liberal" end has been to kill the teachers' unions. Now that's not to say that most of the unions aren't horribly run and doing a really poor job of explaining to newcomers why they are vital.

Look at Rhee and Duncan and all the other Broad foundation people and see the future.

Anonymous said...

Let me show my ignorance in saying that I know nothing of Rhee and Duncan. And let me place blame where it is due, within the union itself. Perhaps I am off, but leadership in any endeavor must incorporate some sense of vision for the future. Without vision, it is entirely easy to break a union, a club, you name it.
The PFT sold its soul for years for a few dollars more. Important issues were almost given the "We'll think about it tomorrow" short shrift.
Point is that now, if you are a teacher, you cannot feel good about your work. Your instruction emanates from people not associated with PPS classrooms directly and you are ordered to perform the daily curriculum routine. You are subject to a confounding pace that ensures both confusion and turn-off within students. And you make up for it by giving away grades to your students...all with PFT blessing.

fixit said...

Dear Teachers,

What the heck happens with pacing when we have a week like the one just past? Two scheduled days off, a snow day, two hour delay, and most likely days when several students were absent?

Please know that parents have their hands full too and would like to be proactive rather than reactive, but time kills us. Especially if you are the parent of a kid who needs more than the average amount of support. Then too, there are the parents who live by the "I got mine" way of being the parent of a PPS student. If your kid is CAS, pulling down A-s and active in a school sponsored sport or club, and, you have a presence because of it, you are an "I got mine" parent. Only problem is unless the entire system gets improved, your student's status is diminished eventually.

It is almost half-time, gotta go watch Bruce, will return and continue soon. I will also find a book and notes to use to continue.

fixit said...

"Anonparent" posted about cuts when the class size is already too great. We don't need smaller schools. We do need SMALLER CLASSES. Add to that keeping a teacher with the same kids as they progress through grades. I know there is a term for it, but as a non-educator, only a parent, I am not required to remember it. I have heard the song before about PPS. We have one of the smallest teacher-to-student ratios, blah, blah, blah.

My actual topic was Parent engagement. Specifically the support factor it can be to the classroom teacher. Years ago at a district level parent meeting a pretty book was handed out called 106 WAYS PARENTS CAN HELP STUDENTS ACHIEVE. I decided to create more for my own use based on my observations of other parents and to record mistakes in my own behavior. Here is one:

I actually witnessed a Mom having a fit about her second grader's teacher while we were at the bus stop one morning. Ugly words were used like "lunatic." The kid stood at her Mom's elbow. I was afraid of the Mom so I said mothing. Parents, your kid will see that teacher every day for the rest of the year. Guess what? That teacher might do something next week that you find extraordinary. Be reasonable.

108. There is a reason teachers send home interims (high school) and progress reports (middle and below) about three weeks before the report period ends. Over Christmas break I took advantage of the efforts my son's teacher made to help him with a progress report. He had three homework assignments on the report with 50% grades. He just did not do the assignments and was planning to take advantage of the 50% rule. When I questioned him he said it did not matter since homework only counted for 10% of his grade and the assignments were graded at 50% (CAN YOU IMAGINE)??? Pretty advanced and sophisticated thinking for a seventh grader. With an IEP. Who wants a new video game for every A. My parent engagement kicked in and we spent some time over break locating the undone assigments and doing them. He handed them in after break. The moral of the story: Do not let interims and progress reports just be a waste of paper. They represent a "do-over" and an opportunity. Teachers are required to take time to produce these and they should mean something. To the administration, PLEASE be specific with parents. Teach us what to do and don't worry about hurting our feelings or insulting us. I guess this is grassroots parent engagement.

I have more but I won't post until somebody tells me I am NOT full of baloney.

Questioner said...

It sounds like "106 Ways" and Fixit's additions would be a real tool for effective parent engagement. How can we obtain all 108+?

Questioner said...

Found the 106 on line- here is a review and then the publication itself.

fixit said...

Thank you Questioner at 11:19. I realize your's is only one endorsement, but here is #109 anyway.

109. BE GENEROUS, BUT SPECIFIC WITH COMPLIMENTS. Parents, do not say "You are the world's greatest teacher..." Say "my kid talked a lot about the lesson on The Great Depression, you really reached him with whatever you did." Being specific this way allows you to be taken seriously with criticism some other time. I have found when I do have a complaint it is often about some aspect of the roadmap provided to teach a lesson. Do not hesitate to bring this to a teacher's attention.

Anonymous said...

I retired from PPS 14 years ago. I never felt that the PFT was for the teachers or the students. I felt it was for the union officers.

I asked the PFT for help three times. Once when I filed for a working related illness, and twice for a workplace related problem concerning a principal who had run the school into the ground. They never helped in any instance. In fact the response to the principal was to transfer out of the school where I had been for 12 years.

I always felt that the PFT officers should have term limits, and they needed to return to the classroom to really understand what was going on in the schools.

I also feel that the PPS does not have education as its main goal. My first 12 years of teaching was in an elementary school, that was run by a strong principal. Academically were we always 3 or 4 system wide in achievement test scores. The neighborhood was blue collar, not white collar. We did so well academically because the principal used the individual teachers strenghts and starting with third grade had teachers teach only one subject.

We also had a strong PTA and a good working relationships with the parents in the community.

Then the PPS Board decided to get into the social engineering business and get out of education. They closed our school and turned it into a gigantic Middle School. This was a benefit to the PFT and PPS not the students.

Teachers who were elementary certified and taught primary grades could now teach fifth through eight grade. I had teachers on my academic team asked to teach science. In some cases the students new more about science than the teachers did. PPS could now move teachers around from elementary to middle school. This also made the PFT happy, but did little for the quality of education.

The busing took away the neighborhood school and the close relationship with teachers and parents.

Along with Middle Schools came self esteem. Now students didn't have to do anything to build their self esteem. We now had to shower them with it. The result was academics went into the toilet as did discipline. One of my Middle School prinipals once told me that I had to develop a Middle School philosophy. My reply to him was "You mean let the students do anything they want."

Next social experiment was Multiculturalism. It was now the focal point of education, and the academics part was secondary. During this time the PPS Board approved a new Reading curriculum because of the multicultural part of it rather than the instructional part.

The teachers warned them that this curriculum was short on skills and teaching the subject, but they didn't listen. A year later and millions of taxpayers money spent, they realized the teachers were rights, and we were directed to suppliment the new curriculum with outside reading skills material.

During the 12th and last year in that Middle School, I saw teachers assaulted by students, students threatened teachers with bodily harm, students have weapons confiscated and them returned to them at the end of the school day, and a full scale riot were one neighborhood gang fought with another. This was intraracial gangs. The school's adminitrator did his best to hide these incidents. This was the administrator that I had gone to the PFT about.