Teachers Can’t Back Down

There is a lot of controversy brewing over the new movie “Won’t Back Down,” which stars Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  The story the film tells is about a group of mothers that are so outraged about the low performance of their children’s school that they take it over.  The main “bad guy” of the film is the teachers’ union.  As a retired Assistant Principal in the New York City Public School System, I can assure you that the union is not the villain.

Yes, there are some bad teachers that need to be replaced, and, yes, the process to remove them is long and arduous.  However, the reasons the process is so difficult because while there are teachers that need to be removed, there are also good teachers who are being targeted, either by a particular administrator or by a parent.

During my career, I sometimes had to deal with a teacher who, for want of a better phrase, should not have been teaching.  It took a while, but once an arbitrator learned all of the facts, the bad teachers were usually removed.  On the other hand, I was once brought before an arbitrator by a principal who wanted to replace me with a tall well built red head, even though my performance was always excellent.  When the arbitrator heard my case, I was returned to my position, and I asked to be transferred to a different school.  The principal based his case on a technicality of notification about surgery that I had.  None of it was performance related.  The arbitrator dismissed the case as did the superintendant.  Of course, I then asked for a transfer.  I was part of the team that had gotten the school off the state list of failing schools.


Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers, the national teachers’ union, addresses this issue in the Washington Post in her discussion of “Won’t Back Down.”  She is very clear in making her readers understand that the film is pure fiction and has no basis in fact.


Ms. Weingarten, during her career as an educator and as a union leader, had always advocated as much for the students as she has for the teachers.  And she states, “After viewing this film, I can tell you that if I had taught at that school, and if I were a member of that union, I would have joined the characters played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis. I would have led the effort to mobilize parents and teachers to turn around that school myself.”  The problem, you see, is not the teachers and not the union.   There is no one word answer.  The filmmaker’s oversimplification – even considering the need for drama and box office revenue – is a problem.

In New York, where non-union charter schools are attempting to replace many unionized public schools, most charters do not do any better than their public counterparts.   The charters may have busted the union, but they have not solved the problems.

We are living in difficult times.  Money is tight, and there is a contingent among our politicians that believes that the way to make things better is to cut taxes for the wealthy.  To accomplish this goal, and the revenue declines that would accompany it, they have to cut services.  No government agency is immune.  Police officers and firefighters are losing their jobs.  There are approximately three hundred thousand, fewer teachers now than there were 8 years ago.

Yes, there are some issues that unions must address, but while those issues are being addressed, the educational administrators must deal with the real problems.  These include, over populated classrooms, poverty, ineffective standardized tests and more.  Union busting will not solve these problems.  Union busting makes good sound bites but hurts the children the union busters say they are fighting for.


In the end, it was unions that gave us health insurance, pensions and fair wages.  Those people who are attacking all unions, not just the teachers’ s union, seek to end these protections and create a have and have not society, a society in which 90% of the people will be the have nots.

So, the truth is, not only can’t the teachers back down.   We all can’t, indeed, we must not back down.  Not for the unions.  Not for the Tea Party.  But for the ones who count most, the children.









As an educator for 30 years, I can’t believe the selfishness of current parents of young children. Yes, I said selfishness. Babble.com recently reported on a mother who likes to shop, but she is talking on the cell phone and enjoying looking at cute kids’ clothes, while her 4 year old runs and climbs around store by herself. The child ends up standing on a table, and all her mother can do is say, ” Maybe you should get down.” She endangered her child’s safety and maybe that of another child or adult in the store if something fell (could be you or your kid).

She set a poor role model for other parents’ kids who will also want to run and climb around the store. She is also a bad role model for the parents, and she’s not the only one.

Another mom let her 5 year old go to the bathroom alone while she was in line at Costco. She said she could see the bathroom door, but she also had a 2 year old with her. When she got to the cashier, her attention was divided even further. The child could have been kidnapped or worse. Yet this mom could not take the time to tell her daughter to wait until she could stand by the bathroom door.

Asking your child if they are insane is not the right approach either. A four year old needs to have limits set before they go anyplace ( for their own development and safety and the peace of others sharing their space.)

1. Go over the appropriate rules before you get to the destination. At the playground – no throwing no hitting. When I call your name you come to me. I will give you a 10 minute and then a 5minute warning when we have to leave. At 5 minutes start gathering your toys and brush the sand off. Come to me. This is not negotiable. At 3 minutes if the child hasn’t started to get themselves ready you go over and help them. You both are leaving at the end of the 5 minutes. I say to my 6 year old 7 lb. Maltese “I’m the boss.” She gets it. Your children should know it too.

2. If your child gives you a problem, the conversation goes like this: ” Since you didn’t do what I said, next time we come here, I will have to give you a 15 minute warning and you will lose some playtime, because I need to leave at a certain time. If you listen quickly, next time you can earn the time back.

3. Follow through. Never say anything you won’t do. You need to coach your child to make good choices.
As far as Shopper mom, she is insane if in this age of child abductions, she let her child get out of her sight. I hope she taught her daughter to scream as she is being carried off, “this is not my mom. Call 911. Help me.” If a mother is going to be that irresponsible when shopping, at least her children should be taught how to react in an emergency.


No More. Men and women live with each other before marriage, and it’s saying we’ll use the points for the honeymoon fare before he’s even asked. There are baby showers and bridal showers with registries. Even the sex of the baby often isn’t a surprise.

Is this a reaction on the part of the current 30 somethings to 9/11, the biggest surprise of all, when they were 20 somethings?

I don’t like registries that have more gifts listed than the person could ever expect to get. You should give people a choice of type of gift and price range. But still, I was happy when there was very little left on the baby shower registry of the woman whose shower I recently attended.

I’ve known her all of her life. She’s 28, the age I was when I gave birth to my first born. It was a nice event given by her mother and her mother-in-law at her mother-in-law’s large house in Westchester. It’s a boy. So, blue tablecloths covered rented round tables, decorated with flowers from the garden in glass bowls, and Dad’s childhood books and toys. It was simple, attractive and gave us reason to chat with the person we didn’t know at the table about their experience with the books and toys as a child, themselves, or with their own children or grandchildren.

I didn’t get her something off the list. I got her a colorful weekly clothes organizer, a pacifier bag and a toy to hang on the stroller/carriage. Does anybody buy a coach carriage anymore?

Bringing Up Bebe?

It’s a good thing Pamela Druckerman, author of “Bringing Up BeBe”, included some references to real French authorities in a bibliography because, if you Google French parenting principles by French authorities, she’s all that comes up. No disrespect, but being married to a Frenchman and raising 3 kids born in France, does not make an American woman an authority. Yet, I’m sure even to her surprise, America has made her the latest guru on how to get your 3 year old to eat chevre and say a naughty word in French (caca boudin).
I know I’m a better mom than my mother was and not just because I didn’t continue what she thought was a healthy and tasty diet of sliced American cheese (sorry Kraft). My daughter did sign me up to take care of her children when she went back to work because I did a good job raising her and her older brother when they were young ( the teen years – I got divorced when she was 14- is another story, no, a book). She did this when she was in her early 20’s and upset over the latest lost love that she would never find again. Now, married over a yearand turning 33 in June, she still has me signed up for when she has children. I guess her recommendation and 35 years as an educator of 3 to 14 year olds and adults who teach them, or want to supervise those teachers, gives me some credibility.
Today, it seems that anyone who can blog or write a book in between chauffeuring kids to activities, watching the nanny cam at work or sitting at the computer while kids nap or watch TV, can get on TV themselves or be followed by hundreds or thousands of people on their blog, Facebook or Twitter. Okay, maybe I’m a little (I don’t think) jealous, but in wonderment how it all happened.
Ms. Druckerman says in an interview in New York Family Magazine, that the most important lesson she has learned from French parents is about food. Considering that 33 percent of American children are overweight, someone, or maybe I should say, many people are not doing their homework. Is learning to eat beets at the age of three going to make a real difference in a person’s diet? I was surrounded by borscht, which is a cold beet soup, all my childhood and hated beets. Yes, my mother said “Just taste it”. Yet when I went to college, the local pizza place had a wonderful cold beet salad, and I loved it. I still don’t like borscht.
Before everyone in the States starts trying to impose a French luncheon menu on nursery school children, let’s remember that there must be a genetic reason why the French are thin. It is impossible to leave a French restaurant without eating several days worth of calories on that one dinner. Cheese, bread and wine is not a low calorie lunch. Although I could eat this 3 times a day and be a very happy woman, I wouldn’t necessarily be a thinner one.
President Clinton and several top chefs are trying to change our school breakfasts and lunches so American children eat healthier. We also need to follow First Lady Obama’s lead and get moving.
As someone who has supervised hundreds of kids (yes, that is at one time) in a school cafeteria, I know we have to calm our lunch periods down. While we have varied the ethnicity of our food selection, it is still by far not the healthiest. While Mayor Bloomberg demands that restaurants post calorie counts, an examination of a month’s public school lunch menu reveals 6 lunches (slightly over 25%) of “crispy fried” something. Maybe he should post those calorie counts too. I guess not enough French enfants attend NYC public schools.
I enjoyed reading “Bring Up Bebe”. It was my first electronic read (new Nook). As a 64 year old, I was surprised at some of the things she was surprised at. Of course, French women make room for “couple time,” even though their husbands don’t share equally in household and child rearing duties. After all, what woman wouldn’t succumb to a man speaking French?