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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Decision Time

Back on February 9th, I was escorted by the principal out of my building. At the doors, without really looking at me, he said, "Someone from the district will contact you when a decision has been reached." On February 22nd, the superintendent read a press release at the school board meeting that not only stated untruths (the bit about my so-called attacks on special needs students; see "Below the Belt Tactics" post) and indicated that a formal decision would be reached while I was out on maternity leave, but also that, by my own actions, I had made it impossible to teach in the district. (Read the entire press release)

Apparently, they've had a change of heart.

However, I was not contacted by district regarding my status. I had to contact them.

First, I had to call the district number 5 times. The first time, when I opted for 0 to talk to an operator, the phone rang and rang. I tried again with the same results. On the third call, I tried to dial by name. Apparently the Director of Human Resources must get a lot of annoying calls, so he's not even in the directory. On the fourth call, I tried accessing him through the department listings. Only, when I chose Human Resources, I had to listen to a long message instructing job candidates on how to access information on the Internet; there was ultimately no option to talk to this man or another human. Finally, I tried the operator route again and got a human. She connected me to Herr Director's secretary, but I only got that woman's voicemail.

Second, though I'd gone to all of that trouble and left a message before noon, I didn't get a return call until this morning around 11:15. (I suspect, perhaps, that the fact that there was a board meeting last night may have had something to do with the delay, though there's no way to be sure.)

Third, the call was ridiculous.

It went something like this:

HR: I'm returning your call.
ME: I called yesterday to find out about my job status because I was told that someone from the district would contact me when a decision had been reached, but I still haven't heard anything.
HR: You haven't heard from the district?
ME: Not about my job status.
HR: I was under the impression that you'd received several pieces of mail from your school but hadn't responded to them.
ME: I received a tentative schedule--which could mean nothing other than you being sure you've kept your ducks in a row in case you brought me back--and I received an evaluation that also means nothing regarding my job status. Was I to be a mind-reader and assume that these items meant that I have a job to come back to, after I was told I'd be contacted about the results of the suspension decision?
HR: Those are indicative that you have a position to return to. As far as I'm concerned, you've been out on maternity leave.
ME: Let's not pretend that my leaving was a normal occurrence. I've been on maternity leave before, and there was no question that I'd be back after that.
HR: Well, you're on maternity leave now.
ME: The fact that you're acting now as though my confusion over my job status is silly--when my inquiry is after my union attorney attempted to find out my status and was informed that only I could find out--, and when we both know that this was not a simple case from the onset, is just preposterous. If you take the maternity leave out of the equation, any person who had been suspended would need to be informed of whether they were no longer suspended, and you know it.
HR: Well, you do have a job. Hopefully this clears things up. If you have further questions you can contact your principal. Do you have any further questions for me?
ME: Yeah. Can I get a transfer to another building?
HR: At this late stage? I don't think so. You'll be in the same place.

And there you have it.

All innocence. How silly of me not to have realized that these documents meant something definitive and were not just a means of making sure that the district would be covered if they had to have me back. How foolish of me not to have connected the dots. Only, had they determined that they were firing me, and I'd just shown up to set up my classroom thinking that these 2 innocuous documents meant that I was no longer suspended, they would have said, "Wait. What are you doing here? That schedule was tentative. We said you'd get notified when a decision was made! We didn't change your status-- you're still suspended!"

In my mind--and, I'm pretty sure, most any reasonable person's--if one is suspended, at the end of that suspension--whether it ends with a termination or a reinstatement--one should receive a formal letter saying something like:

Dear Suspended Person:

This letter is to inform you that your suspension is over. You are expected to report back to work on X date. Please contact X person to complete X paperwork.

District Official

But I received no such letter, and was instead made to call to find out my job status, and then made to feel as though I was some sort of dolt for not being a mind reader. For whatever reason, it feels like the games are continuing; I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at this juncture.

In any case, according to the tentative schedule, I'll be back at the same building, teaching almost entirely the same classes I taught before (except for one new elective addition).

On the bright side, I've really missed Macbeth.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Are We Really Compromising?

I wrote this blog post back in the middle of June--and if blogger is the same as it used to be, it might even show that post date when I hit "publish," even though it's now July 19th-- but I ended up holding off on posting it because I hadn't had a chance to vote on the contract yet, I was in the process of getting answers to a few questions about it, and because I wasn't sure if part of my issues with the contract were because I still have a bad taste in my mouth about everything that's happened since February. However, in re-reading it tonight (about a month later), I still feel the same way as I did when I wrote it, so I'm posting it.

For the record, this contract was accepted by both our teacher's union, and the school board, so it reflects the contract we ended up getting.

Part of my issue at the time I wrote it--and something that still bothers me a bit--was that, as a union, we were encouraged to vote to accept it; we were told that it was likely the best we were going to get with the current economic climate, and that it was a decent contract under the circumstances. Now, I believe that our union wouldn't try to guide us down a bad path, so if they said this was the best we were going to get, maybe it really was. But then, another part of me thought: that's bollocks. We're wussing out. I felt sort of let down and out of the loop. I understand they can't keep all of the members in on every stage of negotiations for myriad reasons, but not knowing what went on behind the scenes and what was tossed out and compromised and all of that during the process requires a lot of trust. And frankly, if this is the best we could get, that's kind of sad.

The mediator's report for the possible new teacher contract was released last night at the school board meeting. It was the first I'd seen it because, despite being a union member in good standing, since I'm out on maternity leave (and, if not that, then I'd still be out on suspension), I apparently don't get to know about anything going on with the negotiations unless I seek out the information. Plus, I only get to know what the newspaper shares with the public, as if this isn't my own contract that's in question here.

Regardless, of what I do know about it, I have some serious concerns.

First, there's way too much in the way of pay freezes, and too slow a movement upward in the pay salary. We've already been frozen this year, and people would continue to be frozen until a pay increase in July 2012. Then there's another freeze for 18 months. In a time when, at the least, the superintendent is still receiving bonuses and cost of living increases, and merit pay, and an annuity and car allowance and the like--and who is decidedly NOT frozen--it seems quite unfair and ridiculous that so many people are being asked, nay, expected to take freezes and cuts.

Second, there's an increase to health insurance costs which are supposed to go into effect this July. It seems only fair that, if teachers aren't getting salary increases, they shouldn't have their premiums raised until they're making more money.

Thirdly, and what seems the most glaringly problematic to me, was the proviso that teachers' salaries will be frozen if they receive an 'unsatisfactory' on their annual evaluations, and that 2 'unsatisfactory' ratings result in termination. It seems like an awfully easy way to save money if there's a district shortfall, or to get rid of teachers who are at the top of the pay scale (or who are thorns in the district's sides). After all, these evaluations are pretty subjective. I do not doubt that it would happen. In fact, I happen to know of places where it HAS happened.

Don't get me wrong--I don't have a problem with evaluations. Pretty much everyone in the world is subject to evaluations--students in school, people in the work world--I get it. It's a good check to be sure everyone is still sharp. But to tie the pay to it when the district is constantly trying to save a buck, and to have the fingers of the upper level admin (aka, building admin) performing those evaluations, sounds like a recipe for a whole bunch of new teachers coming in at the lowest level of the pay scale. To me, agreeing to this is weakening our already-weak stance, and opening the door to a place that we don't want to be.

Some district official tried to say this is the opposite of merit pay, because it penalizes teachers for poor performance. Bull. Semantics.

The public touts the importance of teachers doing things with students in mind. They say it should be all about the students. But, I ask, what about the teachers' lives and livelihoods? Should they be doing their jobs for next to nothing? Should they have to worry about providing for their own families? No matter how many teachers love the students and want what's best for them and love what they do, it IS still a job, after all, and something for which they should be compensated fairly. And, though unions tend to get a bad rap, there is a need for them in some industries. Why? Because there needs to be some ability to collectively bargain so they don't end up working for peanuts. Teachers aren't trying to bilk the system. They're just trying to--like every other worker in the free world--get compensated fairly for their work.

This contract as proposed has elements in it that move toward taking away those rights. I'm very concerned that through our effort to compromise, we are compromising ourselves.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Blueberry-Cranberry Bread Pudding with Blueberry Sauce & Fresh Whipped Cream

As it's the summer and I have some time on my hands, I've been trying out some new recipes with varying degrees of success. (Or, rather, I should say, with varying degrees of tastiness. They were all a "success" in that they were prepared properly, but some tasted like ass.) I made a cucumber-lychee gazpacho (as seen on Aarti Party), but I didn't really prefer the texture or the flavor (though the feta-paprika crostinis that went atop it were nice). I also tried pickling some watermelon rind because I saw competitors serve it up on Chopped several times and I loved the idea of not throwing out the rind. As it were, it stunk up my house and tasted as bad as it smelled. Yick! (On the bright side, I realized just how substantial my spice collection is--got to use quite a few I've never touched before.)

Last night, though, I finally "hit" with blueberry-cranberry bread pudding with a blueberry sauce and fresh whipped cream. I tasted a bite right out of the oven and was sad to have to wait until today to have a full portion. This afternoon, it was a big hit with my extended family, and it is at their urging that I'm sharing the recipes. I would like, of course, to credit the sources of the recipes (which I modified slightly and will be sharing the recipes as I made them): Robert Irvine (for the base of the bread pudding), Ina Garten (for the whipped cream), and Sherri Eldridge's Best of Blueberries (Harvest Hill, 1997-- for the sauce).

Blueberry-Cranberry Bread Pudding

1 loaf brioche bread (I used Wegman's Red, White, and Blue Bread, a 15 oz brioche-based loaf with dried cranberries and blueberries in it, topped with sugar. $5/loaf)
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup whole milk (*I didn't have whole milk on hand, so I used 3/4 cup of 2% milk mixed with 1/4 cup light cream--it worked)
1 cup condensed milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the bread into 1 inch cubes. (Most recipes call for day-old or stale bread. If you want to use fresh bread, you can dry your bread cubes out in the oven--15 minutes in a 325 degree oven. I did this for my pudding. Please note, however, that if you are using bread with sugar on top--like the Red, White, and Blue loaf I used--make sure the sugar side isn't against the pan; the sugar will burn. I had to trim a few bits off, but thankfully it didn't do too much damage. Also, in this case, I don't think I really needed to do this step; I think the fresh bread would have worked fine.) Toss with the melted butter and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, combine the eggs, milks, sugar, and vanilla until well-mixed.

Pour mixture atop the bread cubes. Gently press them into the liquid and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes, to absorb the goodness. (This is a good time to clean up a bit.)

Pour the bread mixture into a buttered oven-proof dish (I used a 2.5qt square). Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until the center springs back when you press on it.

Serve warm. Store extra in refrigerator.
Makes 6-8 servings.

Blueberry Sauce

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp corn starch
1/8 tsp (a "pinch") salt
2 cups blueberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest

Combine water, sugar, salt, and starch in a small saucepan. Heat on medium heat, stirring frequently until liquid boils and thickens. (It happens sort of suddenly and you'll notice little gelatinous strings appear. Then it becomes even more jellified--that's when it's ready.) At this point, add the blueberries and stir, bringing to a boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes. (The blueberries will break down a little and make the sauce, but some will remain whole.) Stir in the lemon juice and zest, then remove from heat. Let sauce cool slightly before using.

Spoon sauce over bread pudding.

Sauce can be served warm or cold, and is a great topping for ice cream or waffles, too! (Store extra in the refrigerator.)

Makes about 2 cups.

Fresh Whipped Cream

1 pint heavy whipping cream (keep in coldest part of fridge until ready to use--the colder the better!)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla

In a deep glass or metal bowl (preferably one that's been in the freezer for 15 minutes, though I skipped that step), use a hand mixer (or a stand mixer) to beat the whipping cream until thick. While you can, of course, whisk by hand, I wouldn't recommend it unless you've got incredible stamina and strong arms! (As you beat it, the cream will bubble up a lot and you'll wonder when it will come together. Around that time, you'll notice it thickening. It takes a couple of minutes, so hang in there.)

Once it is thick, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat for a bit longer, until cream forms stiff peaks.

Don't over beat, or it'll separate.

Serve chilled. Store in the coldest part of fridge.


I wish you success with this recipe. It's great for dessert, but could also make a decadent breakfast.