Isn’t it great when know-nothing bureaucrats decide who is competent at their job?
Part 1 of my blog series about the New York City Department of Education called, “It Takes A Potemkin Village”
In this multi-part series, I will attempt to illustrate and expose all that is wrong with the Department of Education under Michael Bloomberg and his successor, Bill DiBlasio. The problem is, I witnessed so much bullshit, corruption, failure and incompetence that I don’t know if I can put it all into writing. Some things are better left unsaid. Some people I can’t call out, no matter how much I want to because I don’t want to burn any bridges.
I taught in NYC public schools under former mayor Michael Bloomberg for just about seven years. Michael Bloomberg regarded himself as the savior of public education in New York City–he personally raised graduation rates, improved instruction and made schools safer. Any of us who worked in the system knew the DOE during the Bloomberg years was a farce–a fragile house of cards–one stiff breeze of truth would have blown the whole thing over. The New York City Department of Education is a modern-day Potemkin Village. However, we never had that stiff breeze of truth from any of the major news outlets. The most honest and forthright information you can get regarding the DOE was from frustrated teachers who blogged about their experiences. Now here I am, blogging about my experiences.
This first post deals with the over-abundance of administrators and bureaucrats in the NYC DOE.
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Too Many Chiefs
One major achievement Bloomberg claimed to accomplish during his tenure as mayor of New York City and leader of its public schools was the elimination of bureaucracy. One of the bureaucratic elements of the NYC DOE were the districts and community school boards. Michael Bloomberg bragged how disbanding them was such a difficult task, one he managed to pull-off in a mere few months. This was all Bloomberg smoke and mirrors. The districts still exist. However, instead of independent community school boards overseeing districts, they are headed by overpaid bureaucrats who blindly carry-out the Bloomberg agenda.
And what is the Bloomberg agenda? Get rid of as many teachers as you can. Overcrowd classrooms. Close down schools that have large union chapters. Give private consulting groups money that could be used directly in classrooms. Hire a ton of incompetent administrators with very little classroom experience, but who have a panache for fudging numbers, kissing ass and loathing teachers. Have these incompetent administrators oversee teachers, tell them how to teach (when they don’t know how to themselves) and harass them when they are too
experienced old and over-paid–or don’t teach according to the party line and the Little Red Book.
The same rules do not apply for the administrators and bureaucrats as they do for teachers. As a student or administrator in the DOE, if you are persistently failing, you get rewarded and promoted. As a teacher, you get lambasted, railroaded and eventually terminated. According to the Bloomberg agenda, teachers are everything that is wrong and they are all assumed incompetent until proven otherwise. Administrators are rarely held accountable for their incompetency and poor performance records. One example of this was when one of my former assistant principals was promoted to principal at a nearby school. Apparently, being second in command at a failing school guarantees you a promotion in the DOE. As a principal, his school received two D ratings and was slated for closure. Instead of being demoted, this person was given a promotion and is currently a network leader. Network leaders can garner a salary of between 111,000-170,000 dollars a year. They have very little contact with children and probably couldn’t teach a class to save their lives. I’m sure he’s not the only network leader in the DOE who has a less-than-stellar performance record as an educator, and is now bleeding the taxpayers of New York City dry with an over-inflated salary.
Gone and forgotten are the educator-principals who taught for 20 plus years in the classroom before becoming a leader of other teachers. Gone are the subject department heads, masters of their craft who would mentor and support teachers and who knew their damn subject! They are being replaced by young, fresh-faced, business majors who hate teachers and working-class people–and think Germany bombed Pearl Harbor. This is what is telling me how to teach history. They apparently make double than the average teacher yet they know less and work even lesser. This went on for years. The old guard would move on or retire and they were replaced by someone more willing to do the party’s bidding. It seemed like the number of administrators grew exponentially while I worked at the DOE. Where was the NY Post , The Daily News or The NY Times to expose this crime of money being siphoned away from kids? Exactly. They were bought and paid for by the party too.
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One incompetent administrator I could not avoid during my time at the DOE was my third department chair in less than a year. For the purposes of this article, I will call her Gertrude. The following passage is a personal account of my interactions with Gertrude. It is part of a larger personal reflection on my dealings with several of my former administrators. Although I have many funny anecdotes to share, I chose the following excerpt because I feel it highlights the anger and frustration a teacher feels when she believes there is a target on her back. It has been edited from its original version.
Honest and intelligent administrators are few and far between in the DOE and the mayor prefers it this way. The grooming of this breed of administrator mostly takes place at the Leadership Academy, started by Joel Klein to groom principals for the hundreds of new schools that were created in NYC from 2002-2012. A fellow colleague of mine was accepted into the academy and I was very happy for him and the DOE, because they were getting a stand-up, genuinely nice and honest human being to be a principal. He returned to the classroom only after a few months at the Leadership Academy. He refused to discuss his experiences there and did not tell me why he quit for the exception of a simple, “it wasn’t for me”. He acted like a returning soldier from Vietnam, complete with the 100 yard stare, refusing to face the horrors and atrocities he witnessed while doing his tour. I’ve heard rumors about what is taught behind the walls of the leadership academy–everything from how to union bust to how to get rid of a senior teacher. I do not know for sure, but the fact that an honest educator who would sympathize with teachers left only after a few months, speaks volumes to me.
My first department chairperson, who liked to play solitaire all day in his office, left at the beginning of my fourth year unexpectedly. The position was filled by a teacher from our ranks. She was honest,empathetic and hands-on–she only lasted about eight months. She was not the type of administrator the DOE wants. She was one of the few administrators I’ve encountered that was pro-active about discipline. Apparently, she was being pressured to give one of the senior teachers in our department (one who was outspoken about NOT towing the party-line) a U rating, which she refused.
The third AP they brought in to head our department, (Gertrude) was one of my least favorite people I have ever dealt with in the DOE. She was a former college counselor and was a good ten years removed from the classroom. I had high expectations for her at first, but they quickly fizzled out when I realized the woman had the intelligence level equivalent to a bag of charcoal. She knew nothing about teaching, the curriculum, or anything about history. One time she asked me what I was up to in the curriculum. When I told her “The Renaissance”, she went on a tirade saying that was not in the Global 2 curriculum. Mind you, I had been teaching global for almost five years and knew the two-year Global curriculum from front to back, without using the curriculum guides. She dug through her filing cabinet for five minutes looking for the calendar of lessons. She then handed it to me and asked me to “show her” where it said I should teach the Renaissance; it was on the first page. She didn’t apologize or admit she was wrong.
During a professional development session, she stated the civil rights act occurred in 1967. I was mainly a Global teacher, but even I knew the civil rights act was 1964. Another time, she tried to tell me that my lesson wasn’t differentiated instruction–which it was. I verified this with several of my colleagues because Gertrude has me believing for a second that I was wrong. According to her, differentiated instruction was station learning–you know, stuff that you see in a second grade classroom that she wanted me to implement in a 9th grade Global History class that was only 45 minutes long. Station learning is kind of hard to pull off when you have 5 classes in 4 different rooms and apathetic teenagers who don’t enjoy being treated like second-graders. I finally got her to admit that my lesson was indeed differentiated instruction and that station learning was impossible to execute given the circumstances of our school, our budget and our students.
It seemed like Gertrude had it in for me. I do not know for sure, but I think it was because I was more intelligent and skilled than her, and she felt threatened by that. A few of my colleagues suggested she had a crush on me. Whatever the reason, at one point during her time as my department chair, she decided to target me. Everyone who has observed me has said I was an excellent teacher, except for Gertrude and an overpaid educational consultant from (Shiny Horizons)*. During one of Gertrude’s observations, a girl had her hat on. Rather than harping on the girl’s hat, I wanted to move on with the lesson. I think she was pissed off when one of my students said “Miss, she(Gertrude) looks like she has downs syndrome” and I didn’t reprimand the student for that comment–I just wanted to get the observation lesson over with and deal with the child at another time I thought was appropriate.
She also came in for a pop-in observation for a class I was teaching out of license, and had the nerve to say I was unprepared for the lesson. She also reprimanded me for drinking water during a lesson!!!!!! The best was when Gertrude came into one of the Sweat-hog rooms we had for at-risk students. When she walked into this classroom unannounced (one of many occasions), one of my students said “Who the fuck is this bitch coming into our room without introducing herself??? How fucking rude”. If a high-risk student with academic and mental issues can pick up on this woman’s animosity and unprofessionalism, what does that say about how the DOE vets its administrators?
Then came the blow-up in Gertrude’s office after she pulled her bullshit with me. I was known as one of the most easy-going people in the building who everyone got along with but I completely lost it one day. I couldn’t believe this moron was telling me how to teach, and coming unannounced and trying to “get me”. Let me tell you right now, besides giving birth to my son, yelling at Gertrude was one of the best feelings I EVER experienced. She deserved it and I have no regrets whatsoever.
After this last incident, I employed the help of the teaching center person in our building, (Brenda). I had heard through the grapevine that our principal wasn’t really fond of Gertrude. Brenda went to talk to my principal about the blow-up, and to see if I was on any hit list. Brenda assured me I wasn’t, and told me that my principal was actually shocked to hear I was the one who screamed at Gertrude. I saw my principal talking to my AP later on and from that day forward, Gertrude NEVER came into my classroom unannounced for the rest of my time there. I stood up for myself and I think that made all the difference.
Gertrude’s ineptitude as a leader and an educator was evident to all, and she steadily lost the respect of every member of our department. One time she mandated a horrible regents prep lesson across the department. One that she supposedly developed with Shiny Horizons. She was going to police her teachers that day, to make sure we were teaching it in our classes. Three of us did it her way and I was one of them. I just didn’t want to hear her bitch and I was already on her personal shit list. The next day, she puts a very insulting memo in our mailboxes. In this memo, she lambasted the teachers of the department for not following the mandated lesson. To add insult to injury, she gave kudos to another colleague and I for following the curriculum (She could have kept her ‘kudos” and shoved them up her fucking ass for all I cared) and put her favorite teacher in the department on a pedestal, saying that we should all visit her classroom to see how a real teacher does it. What kind of leader pits teacher against teacher?
This is where teachers are insulted and get the most upset. We go to school and become experts in our subjects. We pass a myriad of exams to prove we are competent to teach, only to be dictated by overpaid administrators, bureaucrats and education consultants on how we should deliver our material. Teachers do not have a problem with teaching curriculum, but we want to teach it our way and the way that best suits our charges. A great teacher knows you can not have group work every single day. A great teacher knows that you must mix things up on a daily basis depending on the kids, the material and the objective. A great teacher can take curriculum and turn it into great lessons and great units, without being told how to do it by non-Pedagogues. Bloomberg and the rest of the sycophants at the DOE do not believe this is so. They want to dictate HOW you teach your class, forcing down our throats a one-size-fits all approach to teaching and learning that only sets up the children for continuous failure.
*(Shiny Horizons is what I call one of two private consulting groups who was receiving tax payer money to instruct us on how to teach. This of course is a pseudonym.)
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I’m not quite sure what to focus on when I write my next part of this series, but it will either be more administrative follies, especially when dealing with student discipline , or the role of private consulting groups in the DOE. Please share any of your experiences; it will help others feel like they are not alone in this huge system.