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Sunday, October 21, 2012

You Have No Rights At Work

This election season has done an excellent job of showcasing an important, and little understood, truth about political freedom in the American workplace. In short: There isn’t any, unless you happen to be the boss.

Last Sunday, In These Times’ Mike Elk revealed that the Koch brothers have been sending their employees a helpful reminder to vote for Mitt Romney. (Other candidates are endorsed as well, all Republicans.) If Obama won, they warned, “Many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences. . . including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation, and other ills.”

The Koch mailers were subtle compared to the email CEO David Siegel sent to his 7,000 employees. In his missive, the billionaire described the harrowing consequences of an Obama victory, chiefly that he might have to pay higher taxes. “If that happens, you can find me in the Caribbean sitting on the beach, under a palm tree, retired, and with no employees to worry about,” he concluded. (Gawker broke this story, another in a series of excellent posts this year on inequality, labor rights, and economic justice: They aren’t just good for snark and gossip anymore.) These aren’t isolated incidents of political intimidation in the workplace.

Republicans are gleefully encouraging their allies to keep the pressure up. “”If you run, manage or own a company tell your employees. . . if Obama is reelected, I may have to let all of you go next year. . . I may not be able to cover your health insurance next year,” Congressman Joe Walsh (R-IL) told a gathering of business representatives recently. On Wednesday Mike Elk broke the news that Romney himself, on a conference call with the intensely conservative National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is on the same page: “Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well.”

And Romney is right, as Josh Eidelson explains in Salon.
Why is that? First, thank Citizens United. The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision overturned a key section of federal election law, which had previously restricted how and when employers could make political appeals to rank-and-file employees. That little-noticed aspect of the lightning-rod decision meant open season for any employers itching to tell their employees what to do with their votes or their dollars. It’s not restricted to postal mail – employers are also free to hold mandatory, on-the-clock meetings devoted entirely to lecturing their workers about politics
But while your bosses can say what they want to you about politics, the same does not apply to you or your co-workers. The Constitution only protects against public sector political persecution. In the private sector “employment-at-will” rules. That means you can be fired at any time, for any reason (or no reason at all), including your political actions outside the workplace. (As Eidelson notes, in 2004 a worker was sacked because she would not remove a John Kerry sticker from her car.)  This total power is not limited to politics either. Employers have almost complete freedom of action in the workplace, unless they clearly fire or harass you based on your race, gender, religion, or a few other protected categories. (Theoretically, you are also protected if you are organizing a union or otherwise working to advance your rights at work, but the law is so weak that it’s practically worthless.)
In the United States, you have almost no rights at work unless you are a member of a union or, weirdly, live in Montana (and very few people can claim either of those protections).

From a Crooked Timber that explores this issue in great detail:
On pain of being fired, workers in most parts of the United States can be commanded to pee or forbidden to pee. They can be watched on camera by their boss while they pee. They can be forbidden to wear what they wantsay what they want (and at what decibel), and associate with whom they want. They can be punished for doing or not doing any of these things—punished legally or illegally (as many as 1 in 17 workers who try to join a union is illegally fired or suspended). But what’s remarkable is just how many of these punishments are legal, and even when they’re illegal, how toothless the law can be. Outside the usual protections (against race and gender discrimination, for example), employees can be fired for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reason at all. They can be fired for donating a kidney to their boss (fired by the same boss, that is), refusing to have their person and effects searchedcalling the boss a “cheapskate” in a personal letter, and more. They have few rights on the job—certainly none of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendment liberties that constitute the bare minimum of a free society; thus, no free speech or assembly, no due process, no right to a fair hearing before a panel of their peers—and what rights they do have employers will fight tooth and nail to make sure aren’t made known to them or will simply require them to waive as a condition of employment. Outside the prison or the military—which actually provide, at least on paper, some guarantee of due process—it’s difficult to conceive of a less free institution for adults than the average workplace.
In addition to abridging freedoms on the job, employers abridge their employees’ freedoms off the job. Employers invade employees’ privacy, demanding that they hand over passwords to their Facebook accounts, and fire them for resisting such invasions. Employers secretly film their employees at home. Workers are fired for supporting the wrong political candidates (“work for John Kerry or work for me”), failing to donate to employer-approved candidateschallenging government officialswriting critiques of religion on their personal blogs (IBM instructs employees to “show proper consideration…for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory—such as politics and religion”), carrying on extramarital affairs, participating in group sex at home, cross-dressing, and more. Workers are punished for smoking or drinking in the privacy of their own homes. (How many nanny states have tried that?) They can be fired for merely thinking about having an abortion, forreporting information that might have averted the Challenger disaster, for being raped by an estranged husband. Again, this is all legal in many states, and in the states where it is illegal, the laws are often weak.
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The DOE Will Certify Aspiring Teachers


EXCESS'D - A Teacher Without a Room 

Posted: 20 Oct 2012 02:13 PM PDT
Interesting yet bewildering; this idea of letting the DOE take over the certification of aspiring teachers.  Especially bewildering is the notion that placing a new college graduate with an experienced teacher in a "thriving" school would somehow provide the framework and support for that newbie to take over a class in one of our famous hard-to-staff schools.  Let's get this straight from the git-go.  I do believe that the best preparation for a teacher contemplating a career teaching in NYC is not only a degree in education but also the essential fieldwork that introduces the novice to the daily reality of the teaching profession.  When I returned to school and enrolled in a graduate program in education, part of our assignment was to do the required fieldwork in a school of their selection.  The fieldwork is the first step into a classroom - where you, as teacher, are finally facing the class and not the other way around. I was sent to a number of  schools but I want to focus on two experiences that relate to the subject of this post.
The first school I was assigned  to was a 5th grade class in an elementary school on the Upper West Side which is, by all accounts, a great school.  Great staff, facilities, parental involvement, money, and a student body that valued education.  I can recall being asked to do a read-aloud of a Mark Twain story. Having some experience on stage, I gave it my all with animated gestures, character voices and audience engagement.  The kids loved it, even applauding the performance - my mentor congratulated me on my efforts and gave me suggestions for the lesson follow-up. What I was expected to gain from this experience was to know how and when I was "on my game" as a teacher.  What did student engagement actually look like?  What did it sound like?  All of this out of the learning room of the graduate school into the teaching room of the public school.  Wow, I thought, this is going to be great; here are the budding minds, eager to learn, eager to show off what they already know, respectful, knowledgeable and wanting to know more.  So, this is what teaching is like and this is a teacher's classroom.
The other school I wanted to mention is located in East Harlem.  Not a difficult school by any means; nice modern building, helpful staff and just elementary school kids being kids. I was assigned to a lower grade - maybe 2nd or 3rd with a teacher who used "Shhhhhhhush" after every other word.  This was the first indicator that perhaps I have chosen the wrong second career.  My engagement with children so young was ineffectual and frustrating (thus my stint as a Middle School teacher).  However, I did learn an important lesson from one child and it is a lesson I always keep in the back of my mind.  Due to some malfeasance on part of the student, I was instructed to deprive said student of a privilege held dear.  As I was trying to explain my action to said student I was met with an impenetrable and defying stare that accompanied the words " I don't care.  I can eat dirt".  Clearly, the deprivation tactic to change behavior was not going to work here.  Wow, I thought, this is NOT going to be great; this is not as easy a being an animated reader to a group of inquiring minds.  Where is the desire to learn?  How can I get to make these children care?  Two starkly contrasting experiences of the daily reality of teaching in an urban public school.
So how does this fit in with the topic of the post?  Needless to say, I am basically against the DOE taking over certification but I am aiming at what I see as a misguided strategy for preparing any teacher to take over a classroom.  You cannot teach unless you can manage and you cannot learn classroom management out of a book; it helps and give you some tools to work with but you will only get it in the classroom itself.  Design for a teacher preparation program for an urban public school must place primary importance on classroom management and, in most cases, lack of management is not a big issue in a "thriving school".  The idea that you would mentor a teacher in a thriving school as preparation for that teacher to take the helm in a struggling school is to miss the mark, big time. We know that there is more learning than teaching in a teacher's first years on the job and the steepest learning curve to navigate is classroom management.  This is why it would make so much more sense to place a last year graduate student into a "managed classroom" in a hard to staff school in order to hone their skills in this critical area. To succeed in the trenches you need to learn in the trenches.  All this would seem quite self-evident to any teacher already in the system, so I am not offering any revolutionary ideas and, in fact, this "mentoring issue" is subsumed in the larger picture of the DOE efforts to drive experienced tenured teachers out of the building.  As I consider the bigger picture and how this "bogus route to certification" is being contemplated, I am tempted to suggest that their "mentoring' idea is valid with the idea that if implemented it is doomed to failure - another disaster policy brought to you by the DOE.  The only drawback is that another class of students will fall by the wayside as the DOE clumsily grasps for more power with their oversized hands. 

ATRs: Be prepared! Don't count on principals to provide you with lesson plans

 From Dedicated To All ATRs in NYC

This post is dedicated to supporting and preserving all ATRs in the DOE.  Face it, we are an oppressed group.  They want to do away with us.  Klein had it in for us as soon as his policy for closing schools caused him to be embarrassed for not having anticipated the fall-out.

Although principals depend upon us, (especially us since we represent the veterans in education) to maintain class order and preserve the tone of the school, they aren't very reliable when it comes to providing us with lessons that assure pedagogical continuity when the regular teacher is absent.  This may be because they don't really know where each class should be on the curriculum map, and it may be because one thing they don't teach teachers in the Fellowship program (or elsewhere) is how to create activities that can be used to hold students accountable while they are not running the class.

In a previous post I announced the call for a "Uniform Absent Teacher Assignment Plan" and wrote the deputy chancellor a short pitch for taking some of us out of rotation to work on this, full-time.  We, the ATRs on rotation, have visited so many schools and met more principals in a year than most teachers do in a life-time of service!  This places us in a unique spot, for we are able to reach out to principals and teachers who will supply us with best practices.  Once in place, the Absent Teacher Assignment Plans will be available through a data base and downloadable for each class- perhaps even wired right into the classroom via a smart board...

However, in the meanwhile, we, as ATRs are at risk of losing our wonderful positions as rotating teachers if we get stuck in a class with no back up plan.

I would like to ask all of you to send some of your cleverest assignments.  The idea is this:  When kids are distracted by interesting assignments, they don't act out quite as much and quite as awfully as they do when do have something to do.

For example, I will post some links for WordSearch Puzzles- kids love them, and they can be found in every subject and at any level. 
Here is a website that has tons of great WordSearch Puzzles:

Another nifty thing was suggested to me by our own Mr. Macri- perhaps the city's most popular ATR
Tracing paper.  We had an art class at a Brooklyn High School and Mr. Macri had a great way of keeping kids engaged and behaved: Let them trace.  I found some geometric and stained-glass workbooks (Dover Publishers) and kids traced the patterns and then, colored them.  The whole room and the bulletin boards were filled with light catchers. 
If you have a class for a whole week, never mind if it's science or math- give them tracings with a theme: Last week I did one on "Winners" - pictures of the olympic gold metallists and famous people that students value as role models.  A roll of tracing paper (12" x 50 yards) is less than $10 at Pearl.  I don't think we should pay for our students' supplies, but, desperate times mean taking desperate measures.

I have a bunch more but I really want you to make a page of sanity-saving suggestions for the well-being of us all.... Please!

Posted By Blogger to Dedicated to all ATRs in NYC at 10/21/2012 09:37:00 AM