February 4, 2012

Dear Mayor Bloomberg

For a long time, I have wanted to write weekly letters to the mayor to tell him what it is really like to be a teacher in a NYC public school. In my opinion, our mayor is anti-teacher, anti-union and anti public school. I don't agree with his assessments of how most teachers work, I don't agree that there needs to be an evaluation of teachers' effectiveness that is tied to standardized testing, and I don't believe that teachers' pay should be linked to the "success" of the students' performances on tests when there are so many other influential variables at play. So here we go:

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

I want you to know that my colleague, Diane, and I worked at school in our classroom until 8:40 Friday, February 3rd. We were preparing our room for our upcoming museum, February 7th and 8th. Perhaps you can stop by. We were thrown out at that time by our custodian, who wanted to lock up. We had more cleaning and organizing to do, but were not able to. We were not the only teachers in school, either. Other teachers on our grade who are also participating in the museum, were there cleaning and setting up late into the evening as well. Steve was planning to go in for a few hours today, Saturday, to clean and set up his classroom.

What took us so long? Yes, we dismiss our students at 3:20, but it is only after the children are gone that we have the ability to get work done. We began by just tidying up from weeks of project time, during which we collect tons of research and materials for students to use to make models and projects to show others what they have learned about ancient China. Some of the projects include a Great Wall of China, a bridal litter, porcelain pottery, models of bronze vessels, two models of a Chinese Scholar's Garden, models of the Terra Cotta Warriors, models of bronze weapons and more. As a result, the room has papers (drafts of captions students have written about what they learned, how they made their projects and reflections about what they might do differently next time,) and models all over, as well as extra sheets of cardboard, old clay, glue guns, pebbles, pipe ceaners, paint-well hopefully you get the picture. Next we had to mount and hang the artwork, calligraphy and informative posters children made that will be displayed in the museum. After that, Steve and Ilana went down to the art room and outside to collect clay plates that children had made and fired in an outdoor kiln project earlier in the week. Those plates will be on display in the museum, but right now they are sitting in the middle of the classroom and will have to be moved before our students, all 30 of them, come to school on Monday morning. Once we were all back together, we teachers sat in the hallway on the floor, exhausted, and planned next week. We organized which projects will be displayed in which rooms and planned out how to label the classrooms. Oh dear, those signs need to be made. Oh well-Monday! Then we had to make a schedule for 90 children, in two teams, to clarify when they will "work" as docents for 20 minutes, and when they will have breaks for 10 minutes to view the museum themselves. Oh, did I mention scheduling the three shadow puppet plays that will be performed? Those have to be rehearsed and staged on Monday and Tuesday morning.

We also had to spend some time planning the upcoming Read-A-Thon fundraiser we are holding to raise funds for a camping trip that we take each spring. Three days in the Poconoes (for which we teachers receive NO extra pay and is NO vacation,) and transportation costs about $300 per child which the city does not fund. Each year, we raise the money ourselves. After we teachers met and planned, we had to search through our computers to find the necessary documents to send home so that families will know the dates of the Read-A-Thon and how to record the names and addresses of the 20 or so sponsors they are to collect to pay our students to read. After we assembled the documents, Ilana graciously went down to the teacher's room to make copies for all three classes. Fortunately, our school copier was working!

After we met and planned, Diane and I resumed cleaning and organizing the classroom, including climbing on ladders to store stuff away, wiping down tables, sweeping and mopping the floor, scouring our sink-well hopefully you get the picture.

Because of the museum prep and having children up each day to finish their projects during our lunch period, I was a little behind on other paperwork. This morning, Saturday, when I got up, I finished writing our weekly class newsletter. I imported photos and a museum flyer to inform families of where and when to come. Then I emailed the flyer out to all of the parents in our class. After that, I updated our class website to include the newsletter and to post photos of the recent clay making and firing project. Later this afternoon, I went to Manhattan, to Blick Art supplies to buy colorful paper and a poster board to make a sign for the three puppet shows which will be performed. None of these supplies are available at school, and we are a school with at least some funds for teacher and classroom supplies-we are lucky. After Blick, I stopped by the restaurant where we will take our students on Friday to celebreate the completion of our China study to make the reservation and to plan the menu for 75 at $8 per person. Next week we will have to remind families, collect the $8 and find a way to cover the cost of the meal that some families will not be able to afford. Now that I am home, after I finish this letter, I will sit down and make the sign for the puppet show.

Tomorrow, I will spend marking and correcting homework that has accumlated during this busy week. I will have to also prepare my lessons, worksheets and homework for the periods that the museum does not cover next week. Thankfully, Diane does the bulk of this planning and makes and copies the homework sheet for the week for our class, but I must prepare the lessons I will teach. I must get everything done on time on Sunday so that I can get to bed early and be on time, 8:20 am, on Monday. If I am late, my time card will be pulled and I will clock in upon arrival so that my pay can be docked!

Thankfully the IEP meeting for a student transferring out of our class has been postponed until after the museum. It was originally scheduled during our lunch period on Monday which is when I will be having a dress rehearsal for ONE of the three plays. But we may also have to meet this week with one or both supervisors of the student teachers we have in our clasroom this semester. We will also have to carve out some time to meet with the student teachers themselves to help each of them plan the lessons that they are to teach this and next week.

In fairness to you, this is an especially busy period. We don't often have quite this many additional responsibilities. But, very, very often, our jobs require so much more than working 8 to 3, that I am motivated to inform you about what teaching children and our lives are really like. I am going to continue to write to you each week to keep you posted about our school year and all that we teachers at BNS do each day, each week, each month, every year.

How could you measure the caliber and the quality of the teaching work I've done in the past 24 hours by my students' test scores after 6 days of testing in May?

If you have questions or need more information, call me after 7pm. I'm usually busy working until then.


Jennifer Hardy

BNS 3rd grade teachers planning and resting...

The finished sign for the shadow puppet plays.

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