Unsatisfactory Teacher Part 4 – Brought to you by the Italian Letter “Doppio Vu”

“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” – Isaac Newton

Unsatisfactory Teacher Pt 1- The Birth of this Evaluation

Unsatisfactory Teacher Part 2- Field Supervisor Edele Williams Takes a Swing

Unsatisfactory Teacher Part 3- U Support Me

The video below may or may not help with the reading of this post. It may just represent thecraziness that has ensued lately and be fun to have playing quietly in the background as you read.

 

In this August 31, 2014 NY Daily News story, we readChancellor Farina’s goals for the new school year :

Faria pledged to announce in the next two weeks a big reduction in the number of teachers getting paid despite not having steady classroom jobs. Earlier this month 114 of the roughly 1,100 teachers known as the Absent Teacher Reserve accepted $16,000 buyouts.

Faria said the numbers would dwindle further as principals are taught best practices for writing up teachers and beginning the arduous termination process.

Interesting and believable, if you ask me.The story goes that when the chancellor was a principal she sent 60+% of her staff packing. I believe she “coached” them out of theschool. I think I remember some episodes of “The Sopranos” where a couple of people were “coached.” The statement in the news threw many veteran and experienced ATRs, in our inner circle of ATR groups, into a frenzy. However, during the UFT ATR borough meetings, we were told “…the chancellor’s words were taken out of context.

Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Let’s get into the second unsatisfactory observation that I briefly spoke about in Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series. The second in just the first nine days of school.

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Mr. Portelos, we have concerns about your pedagogy. We observed your class and the students were out of their seats singing!That is UNSATISFACTORY!

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My program where I gladly covered chorus and string instruments.

Mr. Portelos, we have concerns about your pedagogy. We observed your class and the students were out of their seats dancing and acting up!That is UNSATISFACTORY!

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My program where I gladly covered drama and dance instruments.

 

OK, none of the above comments are real. However,they could have been, because that is just how subjective theteacher evaluation system is.

As you probably read in my postNon Parlo Italiano, But I Will Teach It, I was given nine Italian classes to teach, despite thefact that I don’t speak Italian. (By the way thank you to all those who corrected my title. I changed it from “No Parlo” to “Non Parlo.“) Regardless, I stepped up to the challenge the best I could.

I created a section called ITALIAN on my other blog mrportelos.com. I asked one of the assistant principals “I don’t speak Italian. What is expected of me” “Start with the alphabet, days of theweek, months etc.” is theresponse I received.

OK.” I thought and got to work watching Italian videos and even listening to them in thecar while my phone was on my dashboard going to and from the school.”

On September 11, 2014, just a week after school began, I was teaching an 8th grade Italian class. I see them only once a week, so this was only the second lesson I taughtthem. The first time was just an introduction to me and gauging where they were as far as Italian fluency. Just as the students were walking into get settled, in also walk the principal and two assistant principals. I was having my first classroom observation since March 16, 2012.

On the SMART Board, I had the following slide projected.

 

 

Italian Lesson slide

The class, although a bit chatty at first, sat down, opened their notebooks and were performing the Do Now.

I found this website below that pronounces the Italian alphabet when you click the PLAY button. Since I had originally asked the students the first day “Who knows Italian in this class“, no one raised their hand and the assistant principal had told me to start with the alphabet, I thought this was the best way to go.

http://www.zapitalian.com/Italian-Alphabet/Alphabet.html

 

Zap Italian

 

One by one I called on the students to attempt the pronunciation as they copied it to their notebooks and I pressed the play button several times with the class repeating in unison. At one point, instead of standing in front of the class to press play, I whipped out my Samsung Galaxy s3 phone and opened up my Bluetooth mouse/keyboard app. Now I could walk around the room and show off some tech skills as I clicked the play button and scrolled from afar. It didn’t go unnoticed by the admin, but as you will read, it was the only commendation I would receive for this lesson.

The administration stayed up until about the letter W and left. I now feel that is symbolic. W Really As in DOUBLE-U. Or as they say in Italian, Doppio Vu (Double v). Little did I know that I would get a Double U in just nine days of teaching. Get it

At no point did the administrationask for a lesson plan, nor look for one on my desk. As I went on with the lesson, I thought back to my last observation fromover two and a half years ago. Back then I had just created this blog on March 9, 2012. Assistant Principal Joanne Aguirre called in an allegation that Friday, I was out all week for jury duty and the first step back in to theclass was followed by clipboards. Like I said, subjective.

I’m a different person now. Not a sweat. Not a stutter. Not the same guy.

The next period after the three administrators left I am called down to meet my ATR Field Supervisor. That saga has already been explained in parts 2 and 3 of this series.

The next day, September 12, 2014, I am called down to havea debrief, or post observation meeting, with the three administrators. “Perfect.” I thought “Some feedback from three professionals.

The meeting started off telling me they heard I ran a PD for robotics at another school the day before. I replied that I am theFLL Lego Robotics Coordinator for Staten Island and was trying to get more schools on board around theisland.

About a minute into the meeting I was asked how I think it went. I responded about the challenges of having nine classes in a subject I do not know coupled with having two additional subjects and about 450 students to teach. I ended that with telling them “I love challenges.

They asked me what they missed after they left and I explained that we went over example words for teh letters (as seen above) and I showed a youtube video on pronouns. We would pause and go over the pronouns and intro to conjugating verbs as students wrote it down in their notes. I thought a good start for the second day and lay down the tracks of where we would go. I really was not interested in the months and days of the week yet.

The principal then explained to me that they were continuing to interview for theposition I was temporarily filling as an ATR. A change may happen at any time if they find someone theylike.

To sum it up I thought the post observation meeting went very well and constructive. I was given no rating and left there on good terms and in good spirits.

They asked me for a copy of my lesson plan and I submitted a basic handwritten one I had. I was not going to fill out their three page plan like everyone else. A recent UFT DOE arbitration deciision stated that lesson plans are for and by the teacher. The actual execution of the lesson counts. Just like an optician doesn’t pull out a book to see how to treat eachpatient, a teacher should be able to teach without checking a piece a paper every five minutes.

After they mentioned Danielson Framework and that they would have liked to see more “questioning and engagement” , I reminded them of my two year stent in the Rubber Room with the countless denials for professional development. No Common Core. No Danielson evaluation. They told me to go to thelibrary to borrow the Danielson Framework bookand I later did.

Without questioning and engagement, how do we know what thestudents learned It has to be in the lesson.” stated one assistant principal as the other added “There has to be an independent or group component and that was lacking.” Has to Maybe recommended, but why “has to be” Me and my generation learned and we were not always grouped.

The principal added that he would have liked to see “a pre-assessment so we know what thestudents know” and then I should group them accordingly. I thought since they told me they don’t know Italian, I was not off from skipping a pre-assessment. Besides, when did a review of the alphabet ever hurt anyone

The principal added that there was no challenging aspect and it was just the “basic alphabet” that I was teaching.

At about 17 minutes into theconversation, I ask about mobile devices as I see many students have them out for writing notes. He adds a comment about Chancellor’s Regulation banning cell phones, but that the school encourages tablets and Nooks.

At about 18 minutes and 25 seconds into theconversation I ask if I can use the laptop cart for the class. I was not used to teaching with pens and paper. The principal states that they are in the process of changing batteries and we will know in a week. If you remember my teaching at IS 49 revolved around my lessons being recorded and posted online. Now in addition to all the other things I had to get used to, I also had to get used to pens, paper and pencils.

I received commendations for my use of technology. There was no talk of this observation being formally memorialized nor did thewords “unsatisfactory” or “ineffective” come out of anyone’s mouth. I thanked them for their recommendations and off I went. So satisfied was I, with the constructive criticism I finally obtained as an educator, that I even blabbed about it on Facebook that evening.

Facebook

I never liked teaching to the student’s differences and rather concentrated on their similarities.

So far so good. Yes, there were recommendations, but there are always recommendations. No administrators ever say “Great. Change nothing.” There was no talk of Common Core or standards from what I remember.

There was a looming issue though. The next Thursday would be thefirst Open School Night and parents, thinking I speak Italian, wouldfill up my room. What would happen if they found out then This isn’t on me. I did not volunteer to teach something I do not know and besides the students must have already informed their parents.

That Saturday September 13, 2014, I decided to send emails to all theparents of all my classes I teach to introduce myself. I was given no access to Skedula.com, the online grade and parent communication system, so I used theemailsI received from the online form on my blog mrportelos.com

I sent the following email:

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Good morning (or “Buongiorno”),
My name is Mr. Portelos and I am your child’s Italian teacher at IS 34. I acquired your email address from the contract that was filled out on my website. I apologize if you are receiving this in error.
Your child may or may not have told you that I am not fluent in Italian. I stepped up to fill a position that was needed at the school. Although I am the son of a Sicilian father and Greek mother, I grew up learning mostly Greek. As much as I agree that this is an obstacle, it is one that I know we will overcome. I still plan on furnishing my students, your children, with the best education possible.
I plan on using, and have actually started using, technology to help me overcome this hurdle. As your child might have told you, I have a degree in engineering and am pretty tech savvy. I like to use out-of-the-box methods to educate and have had much success in doing so in the past.
We will be starting basic with the alphabet and then moving on to pronouns and conjugations of verbs. Once they get that they will easily be able to then just plug in new verbs as we learn them or they come across them later in life. Days of the week, numbers and months will follow.
I will be posting the lessons and assignments on my site mrportelos.com(click Italian up top)
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me.
Ciao!

Francesco A. Portelos

Educator

mrportelos.com

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Some of you are thinking “Why did you even tell them” In addition to thefact that they should know before we meet, I thought it was better to prepare them. Also, NYC DOE Chancellor Farina is a big fan ofparent engagement, so what was the big deal

The next part was pretty interesting and somewhat unexpected. I started getting thefollowing replies from parents:

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“Thank you for the email my daughter —– —–is very excited to learn Italian since her dad’s family speaks it. You and the class can learn together. “

“Hi Mr. Portelos,

Thank you for your note. ——-stated that he is enjoying your class so far and I am sure that will not change.

We feel confident that you will step up to the challenge and the class will benefit by you doing so.

We are looking forward to meeting you. Please let us know how we can assist in the quest to teach —-Italian.

Have a nice weekend!

Kind Regards,”

“Thanks for such a positive email- sounds like the kids will learn a lot from you despite this “obstacle”. Welcome to IS34. I am on the PTA, if you should ever need anything.

Regards,”

“Thank you so much for the email, I have heard about this obstacle. My husband is born and raised in Italy and did all his schooling there, he did not come to America until he was 26 years old. of course he is fluent if there is anything that we can help you with please email or give us a call I also have Rosetta Stone that you are more than Welcome to borrow for the class. I appreciate you taking on this challenge that in itself is a great lesson for the children that anything can be done.”

Ya su 🙂 Mr. Portelos, (Don’t really speak Greek)

Appreciate your letter and thank you for being so concerned about your students. You’re such a motivated teacher that you’ll probably do a better job than one who does speak Italian. _____ islucky to have you. Have a great year!

Respectfully,”

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What happened next in school was also already chronicled in Part 2 of this series. Without a word I was pulled from all 14 classes and placed in suspension room Monday morning. I was not given an unsatisfactory and spent two days walking around from class to class and no explanation from anyone. Keep in mind that the suspension room already had other teachers covering it andno students suspended. <cough>rubber room<cough>.

I wound up sending an email to the principal asking about the program change. He responded that I should go in to his office the next day to discuss. I did.

My notes from the meeting with him and another assistant principal.

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Mr. —–was concerned that I emailed the Italian class parents about me not speaking Italian. I should have been emailing parents about the class and my expectations of them, not what I do not know.
I explained that I was concerned about meeting parents on September 18th for ParentTeacher and them finding out then that I am not fluent in Italian. I added that they would be probably be running down to his office after they left my room and I did not want that.
Everything needs approval from theprincipal. I put on my site the contracts that I was told were approved for Italian and Science. I still should have had approval even though all other teachers do not need approval to add anecdotals to parents on Skedula.com.
Although I had positive emails from parents, Mr. —-received negative ones that questioned why I was teaching something I was not fluent in.
Outcome: I’m pulled from my original Science/Health/Italian program and will be filling in as a sub while they continue to interview.
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A friend of mine on Facebook also added, “but wouldn’t it be better for theclass to have a teacher thatspeaks Italian better than you

Of course, but that is not what happened. Since September 15, when I was pulled, my 14 classes have been taught by two different substitutes that…ready….also do not speak Italian.

Excerpt from Unsatisfactory report

Excerpt from Unsatisfactory report from principal

It should be noted that the principal’s DOE attorney is Robin Merrill. She is no stranger to my case and works with Robin Singer and Marisol Vazquez.

It appears I only have one more week at this school. I have taught over 1,000 students since September and have fixed countless printers, SMART board and tech issues there. Students I have only taught once run up to me in the hallway telling me they enjoyed theengineering programs Ibriefly taught them and paras who remain in my room for a full period have commendations such as “I can’t believe my kid was actually writing notes” and “you are really reaching kids in class ___”

Evaluate that.

About Francesco Portelos

Parent and Educator fighting for the student and the teacher.
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7 Comments

  1. Unbelievable, but believable.

    I do have one question though. Why not share the name of this administration when you’ve had no problem sharing names ever

  2. Claudia Bienenfeld

    Mr. Portelos, since you, yourself, are not a robot, you apparently don’t belong in the public education system. Teachers are no longer expected or asked to think creatively, nor are students. Teachers are not welcome to use methods that have proven successful if those methods don’t fit into the rigid boxes defined by the powers that be. It is very sad and frightening to think about the effects the current system will have on students as they grow and develop.

  3. now how many time do I have to say this is the new world order this ig going to happen to anyone who still has a brain, thinks independently and stands up for his/her rights.

  4. Hopefully you have brought an awakening to the school so others start to stand up against intimidation and retribution. Please don’t leave IS 34 without saying good bye…
    🙂

  5. It’s incredible. A close ATR friend is being observed teaching Calculus – he’s an English teacher. He’s been teaching generic English lessons and was reprimanded for not teaching Calculus and was told by the ATR supervisor to attend professional development for it. He was also give an unsatisfactory. He’s totally clueless on even simple Math. The schools AP and principal have said his classes are wonderful. He contacted the Bronx office by phone and email to no avail. I’m am very happy and grateful that you are in our corner, Mr. P.. Thank you.

  6. It hurts to read this…the denigration, devalue and discard is too much to bear. It’s an exercise in insanity. It is a system of abuse.

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