Wednesday, September 6, 2017

It's Called Teaching

As I sit here in a classroom composing this I am praying I will avoid Students all day.  It is boring but it is a lifeline to keep my sanity in the Nashville Public Schools. This school is an alternative learning one and I have been here many times with mixed reactions. They are a troubled school but they are like many throughout this troubled district.

The weekend brought an interesting Email from the head of Substitute Services. This school and 17 others, many I have worked at as well, were being placed into the hands of a Staffing Service in order to improve Sub fill rates and build recruitment.  Now how these schools became the selected ones is unclear as it is a random list.  Some are in high end areas of town, others are this school, the most notable is the school referred to as the "truck stop middle school" and the most alarming is the school for high end special needs kids. This is an elementary school for only disabled, both physically and emotionally. It requires very skilled and well trained individuals who can handle the demands of kids who are not like most elementary kids.  For me I have found those Students to be the most rewarding and delightful kids I have ever known but yes they are challenging.  So this service will be able to do what exactly? Find people willing to Sub in this district with increasing demands and a sheer lack of respect for ostensibly temp workers?  Really?  The best part of it was I was told if I wanted to work at any of these schools I was to complete an application and my background check and fees would be waved, placement would continue through the conventional Smart Find system we use so the point is what exactly?  I certainly did not do that as well if in fact Nashville Public Schools was outsourcing this they can send my files to them directly with all the information needed and in turn reduce costs and time.   This is Nashville those are two words not part of the lexicon here.

And yesterday I went back to the school that of late I had been unsure of going to.  The whole Cop thing that has now happened twice, the comment by the kid last week that "Jews smell like death" another reason but it is literally 5 minutes away, I can slip out early and do other things.  Never look a gift horse in the mouth.

The reality is the school is a dump. They "promoted" the last Principal after the school being on the watch list for years, the new one I know nothing of. But the room assignments have changed I am not sure who I know is there but there is one thing that I know it is a dump.  They just all are. But this class  nearly  led me to be choked laughing when another Teacher came in at my request as the kids were truly off task and so bizarre that I thought let's find out what is really going on.  She came in and informed them they were Honors students selected as the first Honors class in the school's program with regards to English and Social Studies. So that they would have better opportunities and get better classes the next year in High School. This is when I started laughing so I turned it into some type of cough, sneeze, choking to hide it.  There might have been 2 out of the 24 kids that were highly capable and by that I mean average.   There was a boy who could not focus, there was a boy on the Spectrum (he was the Jews and Death thing and when he said it I felt awkward and amused and utterly repulsed all at the same time but this is after encountering him before so it was not surprising); another boy whose need for attention transcended crazy; a Girl who smiled and lied to the point of extreme; another boy who seemed utterly out of his mind; several clueless kids who were just out of their depth with the work and a couple who were just ordinary kids.  A regular class but with a whole new label, that is what defines Education.

The lessons were copies of essays about Jamestown and Pilgrims and frankly out of their depth. Readings included great short stories but again complex questions and work that showed a Teacher out of hers.  The room had no overhead, no ability to show film or actually do anything to engage kids in ways to find connections to the text, to the history or to anything of relevance. Frankly as a veteran I would have the readings all center around the historical aspect to make the lesson plans easier and the English portion be grammar, writing and editing that what you are doing in the Social Studies portion.  One subject with two different aspects of import.  You are reading history both fiction and non-fiction and writing about history both in the same context. Connect to the text in whatever ways work. They can read Poetry from the time frame, historical fiction and in turn discuss and write about their own responses and reactions using the literary devices that are part of the lesson as well.  Gosh I know what I am doing.

When you are Sub, however, you are doing it differently.  Depending on the group I may not do much "Teaching" and other times I make the kids do it or a split type of deal. That particularly works well in Math but is possible to do in many classes.  So the second time after the first bizarre antic show I decided to do the work as a collective. Review the readings together, answer the worksheet together and in turn it in with everyone having largely the same answers but getting it done and minimizing off task behavior.  That changed yesterday as I was told I was "spoon feeding them" and the kids did not like it and wanted to work independently. She had not read my note about the Jew comment and right away I realized that whatever I said was irrelevant. Another de facto statement about Teachers and the "Nashville Way."  Whenever a Teacher backs Students without talking to the Adult about what happened you are toast.  I had not abused kids, nor harmed them, I taught them and that was the real problem.  And she had seen me run a class for the other Teacher who I had asked to come into address them before, I had did just that let them work independently and they did nothing but I see we are back to me sitting on my ass. Okay then.

So the other Teacher came in to ask if I could work for her the next day (today) and I said no I am booked and I am not coming back. If I am not respected nor appreciated for trying to get kids to do work then I am not needed here. There are many who fill seats and I am not one of them. They then back peddled and no they did not apologize they just kept saying the "kids said they want to work independently." I agreed they should but would they, as the past indicated otherwise and so while I will do it today this would be my last time partaking in that.  I did not say the lessons were shit, the work is over their head and this is garbage, all valid points, I just agreed to do it their way.  I saw the kids work and the they just did not understand one iota. And we had much of the same weird behavior and comments that happened earlier.   Is that their fault? No its is Teacher's and apparently mine.  Deflection and finger pointing defines Education in Nashville.  Actually it defines Nashville.

And I walked out and once again was mystified about why professionals speak to each other in such a way and then I realized it is fear. They get no Subs to come, they fear for their own jobs, they are utterly in over their head in many. This same school I watched a Math Teacher flounder to the point even I stepped in to bail her out. The kids are so broken and damaged they are almost incapable of functioning at age level. They are truly sad to watch. So this week I managed to get gigs in the Highly Gifted and Talented classes, the Schools that are "special" and we shall see. I have been to them all last year but as I move forward to write my book on this subject I am also working at a place of distance. I cannot let my emotions affect me the way they did yesterday. I was angry and should have said, "Sure whatever" but I did not. This is what it is like here in Nashville you are always on the Defensive as you be finding someone on the offensive soon enough. And I let the kids know that I heard that they could not work with me as they preferred independent work so I hope they find someone who accommodates that as I choose to come here and now I choose not. Not one spoke to me or apologized to them that is normal rejection as it is part of their lives. I cannot make it part of mine.

Poverty is killing America. I see it here in the Adults and the Children in ways that are beyond even my own experience. When I read David Leonhardt's editorial yesterday in, The New York Times (aka FAKE NEWS), he made me laugh about his epiphany over Economics. He used to be a Business Reporter at the times and then was put on the Opinion page and much like Frank Bruni he is a hit and miss. His editorials about Charter Schools profess an ignorance that comes from a place of privilege, let's hope he smells the roses on this as well. Children need education and they need Professionals to educate them. That takes money and time. Again those are things we seem to neither part with. Our obsession with money dictates it all and it explains Trump and justifies and excuses all what we are seeing. Blame a Teacher as they failed.

****ETA:  Immediately after I posted this I had 2 kids knock at the door and I answered it and tried to push the door open and while I was adjusting it they descended upon the Teacher's Desk to retrieve a laptop. My newspapers were there with my Iphone just tucked in between them so they had to push the papers out of the way, either by intent or accident to see it.  I knew immediately they had stolen it and immediately ran to the office.  And the chaos began and I felt utterly enraged and afraid. The phone was never found as I don't have the cloud coverage option and as I am a month left in my contract I was waiting to see the new model; I am sure I could make a month without a phone but then again I live in this shithole Nashville and I need to always carry a phone.  So for now no phone but I will wait a week, upgrade early with a moderate penalty and the point was what? But the reality was I beat myself more than I should. And the Cop stationed at this school claimed the kids will steal a coke you are drinking it while telling me I should leave my purse and things in the Office when I check in as the kids steal anything. Yes but isn't more appropriate that they simply give me keys to the room and in turn the locked restroom where I can secure my things appropriately? Gosh what an idea? Only once in Seattle when I was co-teaching the other Teacher left the kids in the room alone where my purse was and they of course stole 20 bucks. I was again angry at her and her stupidity. But to berate me and in turn demonize deeply troubled kids which I knew walking in how about giving a shit as to why it happened in the first place - locked doors, no safe places to secure belongings and in turn contributing to a culture of fear and loathing. .  And then while I actually believe him and his portrayal of the kids, I hated myself for it. I have said repeatedly I have changed living here and the Woman I am becoming is veering on utter racist and elitist.  Do I hate myself? No. And why? Because the reality is like the same traumatic children I encounter I feel the same way - abandoned, confused and angry.  And when those dominate your emotions and thoughts you understand things in ways you never do.And in turn you are the personification of those in the flesh. 

When the Rich Said No to Getting Richer

The New York Times
David Leonhardt
September 5 2017

A half-century ago, a top automobile executive named George Romney — yes, Mitt’s father — turned down several big annual bonuses. He did so, he told his company’s board, because he believed that no executive should make more than $225,000 a year (which translates into almost $2 million today).

He worried that “the temptations of success” could distract people from more important matters, as he said to a biographer, T. George Harris. This belief seems to have stemmed from both Romney’s Mormon faith and a culture of financial restraint that was once commonplace in this country.

Romney didn’t try to make every dollar he could, or anywhere close to it. The same was true among many of his corporate peers. In the early 1960s, the typical chief executive at a large American company made only 20 times as much as the average worker, rather than the current 271-to-1 ratio. Today, some C.E.O.s make $2 million in a single month.

The old culture of restraint had multiple causes, but one of them was the tax code. When Romney was saying no to bonuses, the top marginal tax rate was 91 percent. Even if he had accepted the bonuses, he would have kept only a sliver of them.

The high tax rates, in other words, didn’t affect only the post-tax incomes of the wealthy. The tax code also affected pretax incomes. As the economist Gabriel Zucman says, “It’s not worth it to try to earn $50 million in income when 90 cents out of an extra dollar goes to the I.R.S.”

The tax rates helped create a culture in which Americans found gargantuan incomes to be bizarre.

A few years after Romney turned down his bonuses from the American Motors Corporation, Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation that lowered the top marginal tax rate to 70 percent. Under Ronald Reagan, it dropped to 50 percent and kept falling. Since 1987, the top rate has hovered between 30 percent and 40 percent.

For more than 30 years now, the United States has lived with a top tax rate less than half as high as in George Romney’s day. And during those same three-plus decades, the pay of affluent Americans has soared. That’s not a coincidence. Corporate executives and others now have much more reason to fight for every last dollar.

The theory behind all those high-end tax cuts — a theory that I once found persuasive, I admit — was that it would unleash entrepreneurial energy: The lure of great wealth would inspire business leaders to work harder and smarter, and the economy would flourish.

The first half of that theory may well have come true. Many of the world’s most successful companies are American — not only Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, but also Exxon Mobil, Walmart, Johnson & Johnson and JPMorgan Chase. The second half of the theory, however, has been a bust. Most Americans have not flourished in the era of a reduced top-end tax rate.

Incomes for the middle class and poor have grown sluggishly since 1980, while the upper middle class has done modestly better. Only the wealthy have enjoyed the sort of healthy pay increases that had been the norm in the 1950s and ’60s. (Last month, I published a chart that showed these trends better than any paragraph can, and I encourage you to take a look if you haven’t already.)

The decline in high-end tax rates has helped change the culture of money. George Romney, a highly successful and personally decent man who thought that making even a couple million dollars a year was unseemly, begot Mitt Romney, a highly successful and personally decent man who has made a couple hundred million dollars.

Across society, the most powerful members of organizations have fought to keep more money for themselves. They have usually won that fight, which has left less money for everyone else.

What would be the right top tax rate today? I don’t know the precise answer. A top rate of 90 percent clearly has the potential to drive away entrepreneurs. But I am convinced that the current top tax rate, 39.6 percent, is too low.

It has contributed to soaring inequality, with the affluent having received both the biggest pretax raises and the biggest tax cuts. Plus, there is no evidence that a modestly higher rate would hurt the economy. The recent president with the strongest economic record, Bill Clinton, increased the rate, while the one with the weakest economic record, George W. Bush, cut it.

This week, President Trump and Congress will turn their attention to tax policy. After the failure of their health care bill, they are desperate for a legislative win and hope to pass a bill by year’s end. Of course, they are not considering a higher top tax rate.

The question is whether their plan will further cut taxes on the wealthy. The early evidence is that it will — enormously — while Trump pretends otherwise. If so, the tax bill will deserve the same fate as the health care plan: energetic and organized opposition, followed by defeat.

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