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.









Watching the news reports about the Jerry Sandusky trial has made me nauseous. It has created a new definition for the term, “Tiger Mom.” Abuse our children, and we will be fierce. So, I can understand how New York City Schools’ Chancellor Dennis Walcott is so angry over allegations that United Federation of Teachers employees have been sexually abusing children. What I can’t understand is how such an intelligent man can ignore the rule of law (Walcott took over the District Superintendency of NYC School District 5 in Harlem when I was teaching there.) Chancellor Walcott has been at war with the UFT since assuming his position. Walcott is seeking new ways to fire teachers and administrators by denying them due process and even overriding the decisions of arbitrators.

Certainly, I am not in favor of having teachers who were found guilty of these horrendous acts remain in the classroom. In his quest to become the Sheriff or Department of Education, Walcott seems to be playing fast and loose with the rules which govern our country. Chancellor Walcott appears to believe that if a teacher, administrator or teacher’s aide is acquitted by a jury of his or her peers or not indicted by a grand jury, the Department of Education still has the right to bring that person before an arbitrator

Remember, Chancellor Walcott, the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states, “[N]or shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” That means that once a person has been found innocent of a criminal act, they cannot be retried for the same crime, as is done sometimes over and over in some countries until the desired verdict is achieved. Walcott, however, wants to take this position one step further. In his world, he believes that if the arbitrator has ruled in favor of the teacher, and the Chancellor disagrees with the ruling, he can override the arbitrator and fire the teacher.

Apparently, Mr. Walcott believes that it is perfectly acceptable to try teachers twice for the same crime and then do what he wants if he disagrees with the findings in the second case. You would think that the leader of one of the largest educations systems in the country would not have missed reading an important part of the Bill of Rights. Then again, city residents know that his boss, Mayor Bloomberg, is well known for creating Interpretations of the law that should never pass the muster of the court system.

In a time when there seems to be a daily report of perverse sexual activities by teachers in the media, and when Jerry Sandusky’s face is ever present on TV, I can understand the public’s desire to see sexual predators locked up, and the key thrown away. I wish that the law allowed for that, and it does when there is a trial and conviction. But when that does not happen, it is an
abuse of our legal system to seek the additional remedies the Chancellor wants. It goes against everything for which this country stands. Winston Churchill was right when he said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Perhaps another quote from Churchill, “Dictators ride to and fro on tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry,” should be brought to their attention before they try to continue their efforts to destroy the teachers’ union. I hear the tigers roaring.











Bravo to Brooklyn (New York) mom, Bridget Reddan, who went on a mini vacation during her third grade daughter’s state tests. I have taught third grade, many times. She gets a 1 on her mom card from this retired NYC Assistant Principal.

The amount of time spent practicing for these standardized tests takes away from the real education of our children. Rather than reading, Beverly Cleary and discussing a whole novel while learning reading skills, students spend time reading short sections so they can identify a main idea.

Forget cutting down on recess. There is almost no instruction in Science for 3 months. This, despite the fact that science process skills and reading skills practically overlap, and despite the fact that the U.S. scores 17th internationally in Science and 14th in reading. (Scores from the Economic Cooperation and Development results from the Program for International Student Assessment of 15 year olds).

What can you learn on vacation? How to read; signs on the road, a map, a menu, a hotel sign and various attraction brochures. You could keep a journal, and any parent could make sure that paragraphs had a main idea.

I’m glad this parent decided against home schooling because I think tolerance and community are valuable lessons as well.

I feel sorry for the teacher because this child probably would have scored well. It shows the ridiculousness of evaluating teachers based on class standardized test results. If two more parents kept their children from taking the test as a protest, the class profile would definitely be skewed. In fact, test scores alone, or even as a major factor, are not a reliable indicator or a teacher’s ability.

So, go forth, Bridget. Convince more parents to boycott the tests. This parent is 100% in favor!


This is Teacher Appreciation Week. Most of us, especially us girls, played teacher as kids. But young adults don’t want to become teachers. From personal experience, (teacher for 25 years and assistant principal for 5) I can understand why. Everyone says that no one becomes a teacher for the money. Today, many people choose not to become teachers because of the money.

I also understand that not attracting the “best and the brightest” to this “noble” profession has an impact on our nation’s standing in the world.

Charles M. Blow, whose mother was a teacher, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times (5//12) in which he cites a 2010 McKinney & Company report that indicates that Finland and South Korea , top performing education nations, “recruit all their teachers from the top third of graduates.” Only 23% of U.S. teachers come from the top third of their classes and only 14% of those that teach in impoverished areas rank that high.

The report goes on to say that in 2010, the average starting salary for teachers was $39,000 a year. Only 18% of those in one study placed in the top third of their classes and who are not planning to teach, thought that the job “paid appropriately for the skills and effort I would bring.” If you asked those who actually teach, I would bet that the percentage would be much higher. Only 10% thought it offered a competitive starting salary. The average beginning salary for a registered nurse is $49,110, for engineers, $53,621, for a sous chef, $35,000 and for a paralegal, $30,000

We know that student scores are affected by the poverty levels of the student bodies. I don’t think that hard working teachers should be held accountable for those scores without out factoring in that fact.

I’d like President Obama, both houses of Congress, state and local governments and society as a whole to also factor in low teacher salaries, terrible working conditions and the overall lack of respect afforded to teachers when considering the nation’s scores. Let them be held accountable too.


This letter was published in the New York Daily News on Saturday, May 5 under the title, Harsh Lessons. The original title was Big Mayor, Little Kids.

I retired as an Assistant Principal from The Mohegan School, PS 67, in 2006.

During my tenure there, the new library was completed and I was able to convert the old library into a much needed science lab. As an award winning science teacher, I was so excited that I literally washed dirty windows before our grand opening. Yes, Mr. Bloomberg, those of us who are not 20 somethings are dedicated, enthusiastic and energetic. Oh, and we have experience and even some wisdom.

We were able to reduce the number of lunch periods so some children no longer had to eat lunch at 10:30.

Locating a 6th to 9th grade school at PS 67 after eliminating the 6th through 8th grades because that wasn’t working too well, makes no sense. Using a beautiful new library to hold classes also makes no sense.

I retired at a young 58 because I could no longer tolerate change for change’s sake.