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New York TeacherFebruary 6, 2014

Volume LV, Number 7

Cover Stories

All the school’s a stage - 5

All the school’s a stage

On a frigid Friday morning, a massive snowball fight is taking place at PS 212 in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Theater teacher Beatriz Cordoba, her eyes sparkling with mischief, crouches down and then, with a yell, springs forward toward a trio of girls who are shrieking with delight.

The combatants are safely inside the auditorium, and the snowballs are pantomimed. But you’d never know it from the way the room full of kindergartners responds to Cordoba, who commands attention despite her petite frame. She quickly settles the giggling students by calmly encouraging them to “smell a rose” (breathe in) and “blow a candle” (breathe out).

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Cordoba, who has an MFA in theater directing and a teaching license in theater education, officially teaches theater. But with an eclectic background in art, dance, music, theater and stage combat, she combines all her expertise into a unique program she has dubbed “dramarts.”

Hold the tests, give us curriculum

New York State should put a moratorium on its use of Common Core test results until the state and city have made high-quality curricula available and teachers have been trained in how to use it, UFT President Michael Mulgrew testified to state lawmakers on Jan. 28.

The distortion machine

Richard Berman, a public relations executive with a history of helping corporations bash the labor movement, has unleashed a campaign to smear the American Federation of Teachers and its president, Randi Weingarten.

Latest News

Delegates vote to approve the resolution calling for a lab specialist in every s

Delegates: Put lab specialist in every school

In the wake of a recent lab accident at a Manhattan high school, UFT delegates overwhelmingly approved a resolution to call on the Department of Education to put a lab specialist in every secondary school and to ensure that every science teacher has safety training.

Union aims for contract by end of June

UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the Delegate Assembly this month that the union hopes to have a new contract by the end of the school year.

Federation of Nurses/UFT wins no-giveback contract from VNS

Members of the Federation of Nurses/UFT on Jan. 30 overwhelmingly ratified a two-year contract with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. The home health care agency agreed to a contract that preserves the nurses’ existing health care and pension benefits.

Public-sector union membership falls

Layoffs of public-sector workers combined with political attacks that have undermined their collective-bargaining rights have reduced the overall number of unionized public employees by 118,000.

Minnesota Orchestra lockout ends after 15 months

After a 15-month lockout, the musicians and management of the Minnesota Orchestra announced on Jan. 14 that they have reached a new three-year contract agreement, bringing to a close the longest labor dispute in the history of American classical music.

Feature Stories

Third-graders from PS 117 in Briarwood, Queens, show the books they have chosen

Author! Author!

For the customers browsing the bookstore shelves in Bay Terrace on Jan. 16, it had all the hallmarks of a literary event: a store sign welcoming the writers, a podium with a microphone and attentive audience members clutching their newly purchased books. But the bookstore patrons weren’t there to meet just any authors: They were recognizing the work of 3rd-graders from PS 117 in Briarwood, Queens.

Like many classes that hold a writer’s workshop as part of their curriculum, Sue Kissin and Shari Kotler’s students conclude each writing unit with a celebration of their “published” work — pieces that students have moved diligently through each stage of the writing process. Usually, this celebration takes place inside the classroom. But once a year — thanks to the inspiration of PS 117’s retired literacy coach Judi Kugel — the festivities move to Barnes & Noble, where students first get a chance to shop for books and then read their work aloud for t…

Liza Miller Davis
Noteworthy Graduates

Noteworthy graduates: Liza Miller Davis, archaeologist

From an early age, Liza Miller Davis, now an archeologist for New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, loved and excelled in math and science in an era when that was unusual for girls. Her public school teachers not only supported her academic interests, but helped her take the next step in her education.

The kindergartners at PS/MS 207 in Howard Beach make one important stop before getting back on the bus: to see the cow.

A trip back in time

Kindergartners from PS/MS 207 in Howard Beach took a class trip to the 300-year-old Queens County Farm on Jan. 23. The students were in the midst of a literacy unit comparing present and past, and the children had come to the farm to witness some of those changes firsthand.

More in Feature Stories

Around the UFT

Lunar New Year celebration at PS 203, Queens

With colorful costumes and poised performances, students at PS 203 in Oakland Gardens, Queens, welcomed in the Year of the Horse at the school’s annual Lunar New Year celebration on Jan. 24.

UFT helps family child care providers seek national accreditation

Teachers have long had a set of national standards that they can meet to demonstrate expertise in their profession, and now family child care providers do, too.

Meet the President gathering

UFT President Michael Mulgrew met with close to 200 occupational and physical therapist members of the union at a Meet the President event. 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day events

UFT officials and members joined with elected officials and local clergy in the annual celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Convent Avenue Baptist Church, in Harlem.

Institute for Understanding Behavior meeting on Staten Island

More than 100 staff members of PS 45 in Staten Island attended a meeting on Jan. 27 with the staff of the Institute for Understanding Behavior, a consortium of the New York City Department of Education and the UFT.

You Should Know

You Should Know

Online application for maternity and health-related leaves of absence

Non-supervisory educators (teachers, guidance counselors, school secretaries, social workers and psychologists) are now required to use the Self-Service Online Leave Application System (SOLAS) to apply for maternity leaves, restoration of health leaves and health sabbatical leaves, in addition to the non-medical leave types that were previously available in SOLAS.

You Should Know

Olympics-themed lesson plans and activities

Visit the AFT-sponsored Share My Lesson website for free lesson plans, activities and classroom materials using the Winter Olympics as a theme.

You Should Know

Scholarships available from AFT

The Robert G. Porter Scholars Program offers four four-year, $8,000 post-secondary scholarships to high school seniors who are dependents of AFT members, as well as 10 one-time $1,000 grants to AFT members.

Secure Your Future
UFT pension consultant Victoria Lee (left) of the Queens borough UFT office rece

Tools for financial security

Tips for financial security inlcude using your TRS annual benefits statement for retirement planning, making sure you have enough insurance and taking advantage of free credit reports to check for errors or identity theft.


President's Perspective

A time for change

We’ve got plenty to be angry about. Our challenge is to harness our anger and channel it in a productive direction as we fight for the changes we need.

Richard Mantell

Time is ripe to transform our middle schools

The UFT's new vice president for middle schools introduces himself, describes his passion teaching middle school and says there is an opportunity now in the city to transform middle school education.


Inequality and you

You know how college costs today seem nearly out of reach for all but the most affluent families? How so many families now are under financial stress and struggling to pay their bills, despite holding down jobs and working hard? How housing prices in New York City keep climbing faster than wages, forcing more families to move farther out or to the suburbs? That is income inequality at work.

A strike averted

More than 1,800 UFT members were poised to strike recently. But the nurses with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York averted a strike and won an agreement that preserves their pensions and healthcare and gives them a raise. They won by standing in solidarity as a union. 

Teaching Resources

Linking to Learning

Open-source software for educators

Tired of the expense and ever-present logos of commercial software? “Open source” software is a good option to consider, whether you’re looking for an alternative to Microsoft Office or a cheap photo-editing tool.

Research shows

Not all poor schools are created equal

New York City compares the performance of schools with similar levels of student poverty. But new research says this is a flawed method for comparing schools. A school’s performance is affected less by how many students are poor than by how many face certain risk factors associated with poverty, the study finds.

Teacher to Teacher

Using annotation to read difficult texts

I’ve been working with struggling readers to use annotation as a method for reading difficult texts. I encourage students to slow down and annotate what they understand while reading.

Building Your Career

Building Your Career

The hub of our classroom

The meeting area/library is the hub of our classroom.

New Teacher Articles

Don’t look now, but it’s time for pre-spring cleaning

With the school year at its halfway point, now can be a good time to take stock of your classroom and do a little pre-spring cleaning. Here are some of the best tips from seasoned teachers about keeping your classroom organized.

Retired Teachers News

Reporting TRS distributions on your local income tax

If you received one or more of the distributions listed below during 2013, you are required to report the total gross amount of the distribution on line 16a and the taxable amount of the distribution on line 16b on your 2013 federal income tax form 1040.

Dealing with the forces against us

Considering our collective world view as teacher unionists from a progressive viewpoint, it is timely early in the year to try to make sense of the forces arrayed against us and the baffling logic that motivates them.