Attack of the Killer Memos
New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten are not getting along. First, Weingarten is understandably upset at what the union perceives as micromanagement of classroom affairs. Teachers have been deluged with memos that, among other things, insist that students are seated in circles rather than rows, instruct teachers on how to put up a bulletin board, and command that teachers should be seated in rocking chairs as when they read to students who are seated on rugs. Even the venerable chalkboard is not safe, as it was banned in one of the memos. Klein denies that his office is issuing these memos, claiming that they are the result of principals over-interpreting central office policies.
I'll See You in Court!
But it will take more than a few inane memos to get the UFT into court. When the chancellor denied more than 90% of the 600 eligible teachers their sabbatical and insisted that all NYC teachers work an additional 100 minutes a week, well, that did it. In addition to those two lawsuits, Weingarten also filed suit alleging that almost 9,000 classrooms were so severely overcrowded that they violate conditions in the union contract.
A New Professionalism?
All of this is part of the tragicomedy that is the start of the school year. Every drama must have a cathartic resolution. In this case, the signs of consensus came in the form of a proposal by Weingarten to have the union get out of the business of deciding the rules of the work place in exchange for giving teachers a greater say in the management of the school. The proposition of "thin" contracts would mean that contracts were negotiated at and tailored to individual schools making for more flexible school operation on matters like scheduling blocks. Sounding a happy note, Ms. Weingarten said, "What if you had trust, fairness, and collaboration substitute for lock-step rules?