michael mulgrew Archives - The Jose Vilson

michael mulgrew

Open Doors, Open Classrooms, Open Minds

by Jose Vilson on October 3, 2013

in Mr. Vilson


A few days ago, United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew asked a collection of us, “How many of you teach with your doors open?” I presumed he meant metaphorically, so I raised my hand. During breakfast, he reiterated the push for teacher professionalism, and one of the keys to school success in his mind is opening our doors to the rest of our school.

I’m assuming he meant opening metaphorically, and I agree. Our current phrase of mind when it comes to education, however, makes me cautious. How do teachers keep their doors open when the people who visit don’t always give appropriate feedback? How do they open their doors when they seem to control less and less of what actually happens in it? How do they open their doors when they don’t always have a sense of trust, in administration, in colleagues, in the plethora of visitors who come with a critical eye, often to the detriment of everyone else in the classroom?

Sometimes, opening the classroom door often makes us vulnerable, and teachers aren’t confident that doing so will lead us to growth as educators.

Yet again, when will we open our doors? Opening our doors has been the best tried and true professional development any of us receive. When I walk into a classroom as a humble observer, I get a chance to sit as a student, both taking in the view that the student does, but also checking out pedagogical approaches from the teacher. Teaching with our doors open changes the conversation from, “Leave me alone” to “I got nothing to hide!” There’s a power in leaving your door open (even metaphorically) that’s assumed when a passerby sees it.

I get it, too. Sometimes, the hallways are noisy, the rush never stops during a double period, or the one or two wanderers find their way into your classroom when you’re turned around, trying to cause a commotion on the other side. In those moments, I find my door closed, too. When I get a moment, I’ll pop the door back open, hoping my students see that I’m not afraid of whoever should drop by. Whoever should come in ought to know that I’ll take whatever remarks they’ll have, and adjust accordingly. Even if it’s absolute nonsense.

But what do you think? Do you leave your classroom door open? Do you think people should? What are your thoughts about open classrooms?

Mr. Vilson


Why The New York Times Is Asking Me To Validate Myself

by Jose Vilson on February 23, 2012

in Jose

Not sure if you’ve heard, but, against their own wishes -ahem-, the NYC Department of Education is releasing their infamous Teacher Data Reports, a set of papers ostensibly compiling a teacher’s student scores on English and Math scores from 3rd to 8th grade to determine their effectiveness, normalizing scores for effects like poverty and growth. For anyone that finds this as absurd as I do, you’ll know that not only is there a huge margin of error on using such a report to determine teacher effectiveness, it’s so narrow and limited that parents probably won’t get much information about the teacher they seek. If anything, it might obfuscate the debates that happen in principal offices and households when kids vouch for their teacher, but adults with no understanding of pedagogy point to the scales and rebuke opponents.

I said it. Twice. Diane Ravitch said it. Bill Gates said it. Yet, they’re being released in papers large and small.

Almost every outlet has salivated at the chance to put these reports out (except for Gotham Schools). At first, I thought we would just see the yellow rags like the New York Post and Daily News post these, as they proliferate the bad teacher framework. I’m sure the other media outlets like the Village Voice or Manhattan Times has some intention to do something with these reports, but by the time they do, the bomb will have already dropped on our industry.

However, the one rag that considers itself the vanguard for objective journalism is the New York Times. While I’ve shared my disappointment with one of their events in the past, I still understood their role in pushing forth the news of the day and the voices they’ve highlighted from Bob Herbert and Charles Blow to the inimitable ones, Stephen Lazar and Arthur Goldstein. I still read the Times a fair amount, and even when I disagree, I also get that they often set the table for certain discussions.

Thus, believe me when I say how disappointed I am in the fact that they’re asking teachers to justify their reports to them. From their website:

With SchoolBook’s partners at WNYC, The Times has developed a sophisticated tool to display the ratings in their proper context, a hallmark of our journalism.

But we want to take that a step further, by inviting any teacher who was rated to provide her or his response or explanation. We are seeking those responses now, so they can be published at the same time as the data reports.

If there were special circumstances that compromise the credibility of the numbers in particular cases, we want to know.

We plan to include those responses alongside the ratings themselves, so readers can consider them together.

No. I don’t want to justify or get validation for whatever the reports say about me. With this huge body of evidence and the growing backlash against such reports, why would any respectable publication diminish their own journalistic credibility by publishing them and systematizing them in their website? I have serious doubts about the validity of doing this insofar as asking teachers to contribute to the further deprofessionalization of teaching.

The logic is simple: if we give in to telling the New York Times about our data reports, then we’re actually responding, and by responding in the manner they’ve chosen, they’re actually telling us to defend ourselves in the court of public opinion.

I get that it’s the New York Times. I also get that the UFT chapter leader Michael Mulgrew encouraged us to give in to the process, probably as a form of protest. I respect that this is an opportunity to talk to the establishments that need our assistance in this matter. However, I just don’t think this is the right way to go about it.

All these intangibles I can’t quite calculate, and all these numbers I’d rather not validate.

Jose, who just won’t accept it …


If You Smelt It, You Probably Dealt It

by Jose Vilson on June 29, 2010

in Jose

George W. Bush lays a fart in Colin Powell's face

I don’t like telling people the good, honest truth all the time. I prefer a more diplomatic truth where the recipient has some chance of getting better. No, really. One of my friends says that I can be so candid at times, I have to put a cap on it in the form of “I respect that.” Once, I saw a terrible flyer on Facebook for a poet I didn’t necessarily care for either. It looked like a cross between a Wheaties box and an ad for Tinactin, flames and all. I cracked up and I typed in “This is the flyer? Really?” The person commented back, “What’s wrong with the flyer?” Realizing that the poet probably made it himself, I said “Nevermind. Have fun at your party there.”

And honestly, I almost felt bad for doing it. Not that much because I think a little honesty goes a long way, and if we’re calling that “haterism,” then that’s fine by me. But I’m also genuinely reflective, and the times I get it wrong, I’m also genuinely apologetic. I wonder the same about Joel Klein, who fired off a missive this past Monday that cracked me up and made me wonder what he had for breakfast that day for him to be so imprudent. Check the excerpt:

Recognizing the importance of not losing an instructional school day, the parents who wrote us further proposed that our teachers and staff use that Wednesday, September 8, 2010, as a professional development day, and instead use what is known as Brooklyn-Queens day—a professional development day that falls on Thursday, June 9, 2011 as an instructional school day. Both the Mayor and I thought this proposal made sense for all involved and, in fact, would save parents the hassle of finding child-care for a one-day, mid-week holiday in June.

But in order to move forward with this plan, we needed the agreement of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Unfortunately, the UFT refused our proposal and therefore we are left with no choice but to keep the calendar unchanged.

We cannot have a chaotic system where different schools start classes on different days, which would require different bus schedules as well as different food schedules. It would be confusing to parents, a further strain on our budget, and disruptive to the overall school calendar. We understand and are sympathetic to the stress some families may feel because of the schedule during the first week of school, and regret that we were unable to make a change we saw as straightforward and fair to all.

But given our inability to reach an agreement with the UFT, we will proceed with starting school on Wednesday, September 8, 2010.

At first, a few people took him at his word. Bad choice. There’s always a back story, like the kid in the class who’s always pointing the finger at everything wrong that happens in the class. If you smell something funky, he points out the student with the acne. If books end up missing, he points out the student who didn’t tuck in their chair. UFT President Michael Mulgrew quickly fired off a statement that basically encapsulates what the rest of this hypothetical class would think after looking at this kid:

“Dude, you farted. It’s not my fault you’re gassy.”

Little do Joel Klein and the rest of the edu-reformers understand that the public can see right through this charade. Sometimes, when you’re wrong, it’s hard to say sorry. Then again, his example of leadership permeates through the school system, and is evident amongst talking heads across the nation.

Like many people, most teachers have an understanding where they work and are willing to make it work if the little things get taken care of. If the windows get fixed, if the expectations are clear, if most of the staff work hard alongside them, and the administration does a fair job of keeping the house in order, then teachers are generally happy. Most teachers that I know agree that the students can be “bad” and the parents can be “unbearable,” but if their fellow staff members and boss are horrible, then it’s not a great place to work. That’s important.

When your boss, on the local or national level, is unresponsive or simply makes everyone smell his flatulence with no regard, then teachers, like my fellow blogger Mildly Melancholy, feel the urge to leave this otherwise rewarding profession. It never strikes me that these men who made critical decisions for an entire set of people reflect any further than their dietary choices or their next soiree.

I don’t have a problem saying it to him or anyone else willing to challenge my thought, but I don’t want to be blamed for the increasingly smelly room. I’ll just walk away for now.

Mr. Vilson, who’s rather enjoying his first long day off.


Michael Mulgrew and the Idea of Listening Instead of Hearing

January 28, 2010 Jose
Michael Mulgrew with Comptroller John Liu

It might have been the sweet potato fries or the classic cuban sandwiches, but today marks the first time I ever believed my union president word-for-word. Today at Havana Central Upper West Side, Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), spoke in front of a capacity  crowd of strictly District 6 (Harlem […]

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