Thursday, December 23, 2010

TFA REPORT: Fall 2010

Here is what I have discovered. Each of my 3 new kids is crying (with real tears) to me about the conditions they face. They get little to no support other than to tell them what to do, but not how. In one case, there was not a face-to-face conversation about teaching with an AP until November. In fact that was after I first saw her. As I said in one comment box, they have been dumped nostril high in quicksand and no one is helping them out except us. I don't know what the other field specialists working with TFA kids are saying but this seems to be a wide spread thing.

We have here another example of the stress these kids are put under. The reason for the 2s are because this R. and my other candidates have no time do those things at a higher level. Even with that, The emails I get from them are often addressed at 4:00 AM, yes, 4:00 AM because of all of the non teaching work they are forced to do on top of the real work of planning, assessing, and providing feedback.

In fact because of all the forms they must fill out for TFA and their school, (even this), and the other time consuming anti teaching rituals they are forced to do, not only don't they have the time to accurately assess their 130 students as we would like, they cant even devote the time to good lesson planning, so they work with the worksheets and other cookie cutter LPs provided by TFA or these schools following the I, you, we format or some other such "workshop" model. They run to TFA headquarters in Manhattan to find and make copies of "teacher- proof, formulaic, guided worksheet-lps.

There is little teaching going on. They are caught between a rock and a hard place. They see the value of what we give but are afraid to use it or they will be accused of not following the rules the school has set for them. When I ask if it would help for me to talk to their APs or supervisors, they decline. They are afraid, especially if their immediate supervisor is a TFA trained person. This is different from the several schools where I have had great chats with principals and APs who are open to a myriad of ideas.

My first years talk to me about trying to make their kids responsible for their work and training them to learn skills like taking and organizing notes, but it doesn't fit the LP structure they are given. As a result one receives warnings and "U"s. I have watched her in two classes, and with proper training she, as all three of my TFAs this year can and will be good teachers, but not under the conditions they work in now and using the types of planning and assessing they are being told to use.

RESPONSES so far:

MB: I work with Principals and assistant principals, they are not getting any support from the system and are so very young that they really need a senior supervisor to mentor them.Both new teachers and new administrators need to learn how to get along and play well with each other.

RR: As much as I hated the idea of having a field specialist to report to 10 times my first year, our meetings were the only practical mentoring I received. I would have drowned in the quicksand without you, Dave! Hopefully your new TFA group heeds your advice on how to become a true teacher.

MD: Preach!

Mark Naison This is so depressing. We are setting up these bright idealistic people to fail. We have created schools systems filled with fear because of the constant pressure for "assessment and accountability."

JB:I'm not on Facebook, so I did not see it - and thank you for sending it to me. It's amazing and it makes me pissed off all over again that they are bending smart and creative people to their ideology and telling them they are not good teachers (which is absurd, because at the beginning it's all about potential). And they're so overwhelmed and afraid of some asshole administrator (who probably only taught 3 years anyway) taking revenge because they're not teaching according to their TFA-dictated objectives that they suffer through it, when it doesn't have to be that way. The observations that the TFA people give them is all bullshit lingo anyway, it means nothing, gives you no guidance, and it gives them a way to come back on you if the organization gets tired of you.

And the goddamn crap curricular stuff that they give you! My God, it's worse than worthless because you think it's good ("teacher proof!") and then you bring it into the classroom and you start using it and you realize that it's USELESS, and by that point, chaos has ensued and you don't have a backup plan. I just found a hundred copies of some crap reading worksheet from TFA that I had run off in my frantic first weeks while I was cleaning out the apartment; the benefit of hindsight (and experience) is that I was able to look at it and realize WHAT absolute garbage it was.

Although I sorely miss the kids that I taught and I regret leaving them, I think traditional route is a much better option. TFA makes you think that you'll be blacklisted from teaching forever and everywhere if you leave them, but I just got my sub certificate and I'm volunteering with middle schoolers at an after school program, so I'm getting back into the game.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sometimes Superman- And Lois Lane- Live Next Door- What We Can Learn About Teaching from the Pruitts of E 168th Street

Sometimes Superman- And Lois Lane- Live Next Door- What We Can Learn About Teaching from the Pruitts of E 168th Street
Dr Mark Naison, Fordham University
Today, I had a chance to spend time with two members of the most amazing family of educators I know, the Pruitt’s of East 168th Street in the Morrisania Section of the Bronx. The Pruitt family, who moved a small row house on 168th Street in the early 1940’s when the neighborhood was mostly Jewish, had five children all of whom became teachers- Harriet ( McFeeters) who worked more than 40 years in the Bronx as a teacher, principal and assistant district superindent James, who taught social studies in Bronx High Schools along with a stint running the Upward Bound Program at Fordham; Bess, who was a gym and dance instructor at Evander Childs High School and founded one of the first dance promotion companies run by a Black woman, and Henry and Janet, who were teachers and school administrators in Englewood and Newark, respectively.
At a time when improving our public schools, especially in poor and working class communities, has become a national obsession, it is astonishing to me that no one in the New York City Department of Education has sought to draw upon the experiences of this remarkable family for clues to how recruit and retain talented teachers Every one of these remarkable individuals spent their entire professional life as teachers and school administrators and achieved remarkable success in inspiring students who worked with them and teachers who worked under their leadership.
But the idea of recruiting lifetime educators seems to have low priority for those guiding America’s school systems. Teach For America, the largest and most prestigious alternate certification program in the nation, actually promotes teaching in poverty schools as a pathway for entering more prestigious careers ( TFA once put up a poster at Fordham explaining how joining TFA could improve one’s chances of getting into Stanford Business School!) and keeps only a fraction of its recruits in the classroom for more than five years. Under the Bloomberg/Klein regime in New York, the Department of Education has made a concerted effort to replace veteran teachers with newcomers from alternative certification programs, many of whom burn out and leave in two or three years. The idea of recruiting people who grew up in working class neighborhoods and giving them first class training so they can return as teachers to the neighborhoods they grew up doesn’t fit in the business models dominating educational policy, which look to maximum flexibility and mobility in the educational workforce
However, when it comes to teaching, flexibility and mobility may not be the traits we are looking for. The best teachers do more than impart skills and subject matter to their students; they build relationships that last a lifetime. I have seen this first hand with the two members of the Pruitt family I know best, Jim Pruitt and Harriet McFeeters.
You cannot go anywhere in the Bronx with these two individuals without running into someone who was one of their students, or their colleagues. Invariably, there are hugs, kisses and comments to me about how the person I was with either changed their life ( if they were a student) or helped them do their job better ( if they were a teacher or principal). But my evidence for this is not just based on individual encounters. I had the privilege of attending the retirement party for Jim Pruitt when he finally left teaching that was attended by more than two hundred people, most of whom were his former students from Morris and Kennedy High Schools. I also, almost every year, drop in on the Fordham Upward Bound Reunion, where more than 50 Black and Latino men who grew up in the Bronx reminisce about the experiences they had under Jim Pruitt’s mentorship.
There are a few things about the Pruitt family history that might provide clues to their success. They grew up in an African American family working class family where learning and public service were held up as ideals irrespective of the wealth one possessed. Each child attended New York City public schools and attended New York public universities. And two members of the family Bess and Harriet, lived in the family house in Morrisania during all the years they worked in the Bronx public schools, years that included an arson and abandonment cycle that decimated many portions of their neighborhood, a fiscal crisis took music, arts and after school programs out of the public schools, and a crack epidemic that destroyed many young people and their families. Through all this, Bess and Harriet remained in their neighborhood and remained in Bronx schools, guiding young people who others gave up on and mentoring new teachers who came in to work for them.
If you are looking for Superheroes, educators whose experience may hold the key to helping young people growing up in poverty embrace education, the best place to look may not be in the Charter Schools of Harlem, but in a little row house on East 168th Street between Prospect and Union Avenues in the Morrisania section of the Bronx.
I know that’s where I go when I’m looking for inspiration, along with a great public school in the Bronx, PS 140, headed by a remarkable principal, Paul Cannon, who grew up only two blocks away from the Pruitts.
Maybe someday, when the people running our schools stop looking to Wall Street or Hearst Publications for guidance, they will turn to the people who have a proven track record for educating inner city youth, and who did it- and are doing it- in the neighborhoods they grew up in.
Mark Naison, December 22 2010
Dr Mark Naison, Fordham University
Today, I had a chance to spend time with two members of the most amazing family of educators I know, the Pruitt’s of East 168th Street in the Morrisania Section of the Bronx. The Pruitt family, who moved a small row house on 168th Street in the early 1940’s when the neighborhood was mostly Jewish, had five children all of whom became teachers- Harriet ( McFeeters) who worked more than 40 years in the Bronx as a teacher, principal and assistant district superindent James, who taught social studies in Bronx High Schools along with a stint running the Upward Bound Program at Fordham; Bess, who was a gym and dance instructor at Evander Childs High School and founded one of the first dance promotion companies run by a Black woman, and Henry and Janet, who were teachers and school administrators in Englewood and Newark, respectively.
At a time when improving our public schools, especially in poor and working class communities, has become a national obsession, it is astonishing to me that no one in the New York City Department of Education has sought to draw upon the experiences of this remarkable family for clues to how recruit and retain talented teachers Every one of these remarkable individuals spent their entire professional life as teachers and school administrators and achieved remarkable success in inspiring students who worked with them and teachers who worked under their leadership.
But the idea of recruiting lifetime educators seems to have low priority for those guiding America’s school systems. Teach For America, the largest and most prestigious alternate certification program in the nation, actually promotes teaching in poverty schools as a pathway for entering more prestigious careers ( TFA once put up a poster at Fordham explaining how joining TFA could improve one’s chances of getting into Stanford Business School!) and keeps only a fraction of its recruits in the classroom for more than five years. Under the Bloomberg/Klein regime in New York, the Department of Education has made a concerted effort to replace veteran teachers with newcomers from alternative certification programs, many of whom burn out and leave in two or three years. The idea of recruiting people who grew up in working class neighborhoods and giving them first class training so they can return as teachers to the neighborhoods they grew up doesn’t fit in the business models dominating educational policy, which look to maximum flexibility and mobility in the educational workforce
However, when it comes to teaching, flexibility and mobility may not be the traits we are looking for. The best teachers do more than impart skills and subject matter to their students; they build relationships that last a lifetime. I have seen this first hand with the two members of the Pruitt family I know best, Jim Pruitt and Harriet McFeeters.
You cannot go anywhere in the Bronx with these two individuals without running into someone who was one of their students, or their colleagues. Invariably, there are hugs, kisses and comments to me about how the person I was with either changed their life ( if they were a student) or helped them do their job better ( if they were a teacher or principal). But my evidence for this is not just based on individual encounters. I had the privilege of attending the retirement party for Jim Pruitt when he finally left teaching that was attended by more than two hundred people, most of whom were his former students from Morris and Kennedy High Schools. I also, almost every year, drop in on the Fordham Upward Bound Reunion, where more than 50 Black and Latino men who grew up in the Bronx reminisce about the experiences they had under Jim Pruitt’s mentorship.
There are a few things about the Pruitt family history that might provide clues to their success. They grew up in an African American family working class family where learning and public service were held up as ideals irrespective of the wealth one possessed. Each child attended New York City public schools and attended New York public universities. And two members of the family Bess and Harriet, lived in the family house in Morrisania during all the years they worked in the Bronx public schools, years that included an arson and abandonment cycle that decimated many portions of their neighborhood, a fiscal crisis took music, arts and after school programs out of the public schools, and a crack epidemic that destroyed many young people and their families. Through all this, Bess and Harriet remained in their neighborhood and remained in Bronx schools, guiding young people who others gave up on and mentoring new teachers who came in to work for them.
If you are looking for Superheroes, educators whose experience may hold the key to helping young people growing up in poverty embrace education, the best place to look may not be in the Charter Schools of Harlem, but in a little row house on East 168th Street between Prospect and Union Avenues in the Morrisania section of the Bronx.
I know that’s where I go when I’m looking for inspiration, along with a great public school in the Bronx, PS 140, headed by a remarkable principal, Paul Cannon, who grew up only two blocks away from the Pruitts.
Maybe someday, when the people running our schools stop looking to Wall Street or Hearst Publications for guidance, they will turn to the people who have a proven track record for educating inner city youth, and who did it- and are doing it- in the neighborhoods they grew up in.
Mark Naison, December 22 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dispatches: A Former TFA Teacher

. video


My name is John Bilby and I was a TFA teacher from September 2009 until March 2010.  I left the organization because I felt that it does not adequately prepare its people to serve the poorest children in public schools.  I also think that TFA is more interested in power, access, and influence in the federal game of education than it is concerned with resolving educational inequity.  Its "corps members" are merely a means to this end, providing the organization with a front while it pursues the goals of its donors, namely to remodel public education in this country in order to favor a high-turnover, non-unionized workforce in charters run by hedge-fund managers for tax breaks.  I foresee this further stratifying our public education system into one in which children with disabilities, children who don't speak English, and children who do not do well on standardized tests are funneled into a public education system in a constant state of crisis due to continuous budget cutting.  I still believe, however, in the democratic power of public education and the right of the people to vote out those who might infringe upon it, and I am currently enrolled in a traditional route teacher certification program and I am looking forward to getting back into a city classroom soon.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Alfie Kohn has a thought in the Huffington Post

"In recent years, parents have cried in dismay that their children could not read out loud, could not spell, could not write clearly," while "employers have said that mechanics could not read simple directions. Many a college has blamed high schools for passing on students ... who could not read adequately to study college subjects; high schools have had to give remedial reading instruction to boys and girls who did not learn to read properly in elementary schools..."

On and on goes the devastating indictment of our education system. Or -- well, perhaps I shouldn't say "our" education system, since few of us had much to say about school policy when this article appeared in 1954.

Similar jeremiads were published, of course, in the 1980s (see especially the Reagan Administration's influential and deeply dishonest "Nation at Risk" report) and in the 1970s, but one could argue that those, like today's denunciations of falling standards and demands for accountability, reflect the same legacy of multiculturalism, radical education professors, and the post-Woodstock cultural realignment that brought down traditional values inside and outside of schools.

But how does one defend such an argument when it turns out that people were saying exactly the same things about America's dysfunctional education system before Vietnam, before Civil Rights, before feminism -- and displaying that same aggressive nostalgia for an earlier era when, you know, excellence really mattered?

And if pundits were throwing up their hands during the Eisenhower era about schools on the decline, about students who could barely read and write, about how we're being beaten by [insert name of other country here], the obvious question is: When exactly was that golden period that was distinguished by high standards?

The answer, of course, is that it never existed. "The story of declining school quality across the 20th century is, for the most part, a fable," says social scientist Richard Rothstein, whose book The Way We Were? cites a series of similar attacks on American education, moving backward one decade at a time. Each generation invokes the good old days, during which, we discover, people had been doing exactly the same thing. ("Grade inflation" is a case in point: Harvard professors were already grumbling about how A's were "given too readily" back in 1894, only a few years after letter grades were introduced to the college.)

Of course, this phenomenon isn't limited to schooling. As I've described elsewhere, claims that parents are too permissive, that they fail to set limits, and consequently that "kids today" are spoiled and self-centered, can be found in articles and books that date back decades, if not centuries.

To dig up strikingly familiar observations or sentiments offered by people long dead isn't just an amusing rhetorical flourish. These echoes deprive us of the myth of uniqueness, and that can be usefully unsettling. Whenever we're apt to sound off about how contemporary education -- or any other aspect of modern life -- is unprecedented in its capacity to give offense, the knowledge that our grandparents or distant ancestors said much the same thing, give or take a superficial detail, serves to remind us of an observation once offered by Adrienne Rich: "Nostalgia is only amnesia turned around."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Teachers As Scapegoats

So lawyers for NYC are fighting for the release of Teacher Data Reports to the press. Why do they only want to publish Teacher evaluations? Why not evaluations for police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers and yes, School Chancellors and Mayors? Another sign that Teachers are scapegoats for the failures of the political and economic leadership of this nation to address poverty and racism.

Notorious Phd

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Teachers Talk Back on Bronx Net

Link To Bronx Talk Show on Teachers and Teaching With Tom Porton of Monre HS Campus
and Dr Mark Naison of Fordham University

Funny The Way It IS #3

This is absolutely hysterical. and tooooooo true.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

READ THIS BECAUSE:

I was told by my boss at a local highly respected school of education that I am doing too much for the first year TFA’s I work with. I was told I shouldn’t mentor, that I should just visit and talk with them and that’s it. I shouldn’t send them tips and samples of good pedagogy; I shouldn’t keep a running journal with them to keep a record of observations, and discussions; I shouldn’t burden them because they are already overworked and have someone from TFA and maybe a school mentor and certainly an instructor from the University.

So what am I? I don’t have a doctorate. I am not an administrator nor did I ever want to become one. I don’t have or run an institute. All I did was teach, advise, coordinate, and coach in three high schools in NYC and Westchester over 38 years. Now I try to pass on to new teachers what was taught to me and what I learned through my various experiences. I was scolded for that. That’s why you should read this.

Read this, if like me, you are tired of non-educators telling teachers how to teach. Read this, if like me, you are tired of reorganized school buildings now too top heavy with administrators and administrative tasks that take away from teaching. Read this if you believe that new teachers can become master teachers like many in the past have done. Read this if you also believe that there were and still are many incompetent teachers who should be fired, but with due process. Those who give my profession a bad name have always embarrassed me, but I will not, as the media and non-educator policy makers, focus on the negative.

Read this if you believe that new teachers can become master teachers because:
- They have the talent (unconscious skills)
- They develop conscious skills to compliment their talents.
- They are trained by master teachers and supervisors.
- They are treated as professionals with: respect, proper pay given the level of their education and worth to society.
- They are given general guidelines and parameters and trusted to create what works.
- They are tuned into their students needs, not wants.
- They are students of teaching.
- They are intrinsically rewarded by their students’ achievements.

Read this if you believe that:
- to educate students the best teachers engage students’ curiosity.
- engaged students don’t need to be managed.
- students should never be sold short or underestimated.
- being uninformed and under-skilled does not make a student stupid or a management problem.
- new teachers can become master teachers if they challenge their students’ minds and therefore awaken their spirit.
- if you awaken their spirit, you can raise their skills to the level of their innate intelligence.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

my friend Bernie's Lament

I am still teaching, if you can call it that. As an ATR, most principals think of you as an anachronistic dinosaur, who has ben a part of the great educational meltdown, They believe that only the new and younger teachers have all of the answers and solutions, that experience is the reason why schools did not work in the past. Like some of the people in baseball who make all of their decisions based on saber metrics, it's all about the numbers, even when the numbers don't tell the whole story or the numbers are flawed and inaccurate , as the numbers most certainly are in the case of NYC schools.


In addition, teachers like myself cost too much to put on their budget, which unlike when schools were larger, is extremely small. Their budget might be 400 or 500,000. My salary is almost 100,000. If they hire me, what does that leave them with to run the school. The downsizing of schools has not improved schools as far as I can see. With 7 or 8 schools in a building, you have 7 or 8 principals so your cost for principals is 7 or 8x more than one principal's cost, the Xerox contracts are multiple as opposed to one for the whole building. The same is true for paper supplies, etc.


Since the principals and assistant principals by and large do not possess expertise in teaching, they cannot nurture or "grow" new teachers. This means the new teachers either flounder and fail, or eventually learn through trial and error ( if the last long enough to do that). It also means that the only way to assist the new teachers is to bring in "experts" or mentors -which is more money. In larger schools the experienced mentors are already there in the school and already being paid so that is saving money. Most of the supervisors in my thirty five years career were supportive and helpful. They allowed you the freedom to make mistakes, to grow, to do and to try new things and ideas, to use your creativity and personality to create your own style as opposed to the to some cookie cutter, one-size fits all paradigm. I truly enjoyed sharing what I knew and what I had learned through my experience with new/junior teachers.

There is no sense of tradition, or continuation or belonging because many of the schools students attended or are attending have been or will be closed. Students will not be able to return at a later date to tell their teachers what they have accomplished and how those teachers impacted their lives, nor will they be able to return to mentor other students or coach their former school's team, thereby making a connection with the present from the past. Also, putting so many schools in one building has effectively separated schools into tiny fiefdoms, separate and apart from the other schools. They are places which have "marked their territory" or "branded" it -DOE terminology not mine. The principals do not work together. Each one is out for his/her own school's success which engenders selfishness and self-centeredness. Finally, it denies both students and teachers of the opportunity to participate in the "world class" level of education the mayor claims his changes have created.

Friday, November 19, 2010

http://www.ny1.com/content/news_beats/education/129217/parents-protest-release-of-teacher-reports/

FUNNY THE WAY IT IS #2

IT'S TIME FOR THE HOWARD BEALE SHOW.....

'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!'

Apparently many of us need to say more and say it out loud and in public. I am so fed up; I am even willing to quote Spiro Agnew. “The nattering nabobs of negativism” who influence education policy need to be halted. Teachers teach. Well-trained teachers teach better. Great teachers change lives. Tests don’t. Why then are we so linked to tests (and poorly devised ones at that) as the sole measure of accountability? Several authors have theories. Many (like Diane Ravitch) point out that over the past two decades education policy has fallen into the hands of policy makers bred and influenced by major corporations and the foundations they support. The Gates Foundation (Bill today called for the end of master degree requirements and pay increases for gaining more knowledge and expertise. Of course, isn't he a college drop out?) and The Fordham (not University) Institute are two good examples.

They still live by the standard of industrial America developed a full century ago by Frederick W. Taylor. Captains of Industry (Robber Barons) supported Scientific Management, as it was called, in order to make their employees more productive. Sound familiar? Today’s policy makers want to turn teachers into industrial employees churning students out like Ford workers churned out model T’s. Taylor and his followers turned efficiency into the justification for such changes. The industrial leaders of the day believed implementation of scientific management would benefit both workers and society at-large. Today’s policy makers have bought it hook line and sinker. Look at today’s best example. New York City schools are totally controlled by a financial “Captain of Industry” and his henchman, Joel Klein. Nowhere more than in NYC is “Taylorism” being used to run schools.

I see two notable problems with this approach. First, kids aren’t identical mass produced Model-T’s. They aren’t PCs either. They are human beings. Second, teachers aren’t industrial machines. They are professionals like doctors, lawyers, accountants, and yes, even MBA granted businessmen. They need to be treated as such. Is this just another Industrial disease?

(with apologies to Mark Knopfler and DIre Straits)


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Inspiring, Student- Centered Educational Communities ( From the Huffington Post)

Donna Nevel
Community psychologist, educator and organizer
.Inspiring, Student-Centered Educational Communities

I am a great admirer of two educational communities in New York City -- the Bloomingdale Family Program and the Julia Richman Education Complex (JREC). The former is a Head Start Center in the Manhattan Valley neighborhood of the upper west side of Manhattan; the latter, an educational complex of six schools, located on the east side of Manhattan -- four high schools, an elementary/middle school, and a school for children with autism. Walking through these buildings and visiting the classrooms is always inspiring. My children had the great fortune of being part of these two communities.

While one is a federally funded pre-school and the other a part of the NYC public school system,

I began thinking about what characteristics they share with one another that I have found so compelling and even exhilarating. These are some of the characteristics that immediately came to mind:

The needs and well-being of students are at the center of everything they do. No other considerations, political or otherwise, come before that.

They value and have tremendous respect for their students and families. Each community not only embraces their students, but their extended families as well. That is, students are most definitely not a mere number.

Both institutions believe in, and do what they can to support the ability of all children -- particularly those most often under-served by our system, such as low income and children of color, children with special needs, English language learners -- to develop intellectually and emotionally to their fullest potential.

They have an unwavering commitment to creating an environment where students develop a love of, and passion for, learning and an appreciation for the many strengths and abilities they bring with them.

Understanding that high-stakes testing and teaching to the test do not create critical and creative thinkers, they develop curricula and a learning community that provide a framework and foundation for life-long learning.

Those in leadership positions value and have a genuine respect for their teachers, and do everything they can to support the teaching staff and to enable them to flourish as educators. No measuring teachers by their test scores in these institutions.

When you walk into each of these buildings, everyone immediately feels welcome and at home. You don't feel as if you're a criminal who needs policing.

At the heart of both JREC and Bloomingdale is their emphasis on community and on devoting the time to building and nurturing their communities.

In both environments, the collaborative spirit is contagious. Parents, students, teachers, administrators, social service staff, security, and all other school staff interact with, and support one another throughout each day.

While I was a parent within these educational institutions (and I still am connected to each of them), I often saw the administration interacting with teachers and parents and students, and I got to see firsthand how every child and family and member of the school community mattered. I had the privilege of hearing the educators discuss their approaches to education, but far more compelling than that, I got to see it all in action. I sat in on classes that were magical; from pre-school to high school, I saw students excited about where they were and what they were learning.

According to current educational "reform" dogma, the education system needs to be revamped. Yet, if those setting educational policy were paying attention to, and concerned about schools that truly serve our children, they would recognize that we have these wonderful models to draw from, with a track record of students who are engaged learners.

Particularly at a time when testing and test prep trump all else; when we have a Mayor and Department of Education that value business and top-down corporate models that are not centered on the needs of our children and that exclude parents, educators, students, and community members from any decision-making; when students of color and low income students are too often marginalized and not getting the education they deserve; and when we are witnessing increased privatization of our school system, including a proliferation of charters, we need to make sure that public institutions like JREC and Bloomingdale are able to flourish.

We need to demand a school system that supports these institutions and others like them where creativity and imagination and meaningful learning and a commitment to all our children are part of the fabric of its everyday life. As part of that, we need to insist that schools are able to develop genuine ways to assess and evaluate school success, unlike the system we now have where "accountability" grows out of bureaucracies and not classrooms.

With the recent resignation of the NYC Chancellor, I began to imagine what our school system would be like if we had educators like those at JREC and Bloomingdale at the helm. How lucky our children and all of us would be. And of course they would be doing it all collaboratively with the entire education community as partners in our children's education! Our children deserve no less.

"FUNNY THE WAY IT IS" #1

Now, in the fall of 2010, the NYC DOE is deciding whether or not to publish “value added” teacher data reports as Los Angeles did at the end of August 2010. Maybe they didn’t read the article from The Los Angeles Times on September 27th, 2010 that said:

“A teacher whose body was found underneath a bridge in the Angeles National Forest appears to have committed suicide…. The body of Rigoberto Ruelas was found Sunday morning around the Big Tujunga Canyon area in the Angeles National Forest, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.”

“Ruelas' death stunned students and teachers at Miramonte Elementary School in South L.A., where he was described as a popular and energetic teacher….‘You were an example for each one of your students and a friend for all," a hand-painted banner said in Spanish. "R.I.P. Mr. Ruelas.’”

“KABC-TV Channel 7 quoted family members as saying that Ruelas was distraught about scoring low in a teacher-rating database recently made public by The [LA] Times. He had been missing since Sept. 22. South Gate Police Officer Tony Mendez told KCAL-TV Channel 9 that Ruelas was unhappy at his database ranking. In the database, Ruelas is listed as "’less effective than average overall.’ He rated "less effective" in math and "average" in English.”

What an incredible tragedy. Mr. Ruelas reaction was, of course, extreme, but how would anyone react to that kind of public scrutiny? Why is it that teachers, of all people, can be treated to that type of public humiliation?

What is interesting is the comment made by Los Angeles School Chief Ramon C. Cortines made after Mr. Ruelas’s death. He said, "Mr. Ruelas was a passionate and caring teacher, who put his students first. He made a difference in the lives of so many in his classroom, and by staying after the bell rang to tutor students."

Not good enough to get a decent rating, I guess.

“Funny the way it is.”

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Defense of Public School Teachers

In Defense of Public School Teachers
Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University


There are few jobs in this country more challenging than that of a public school teacher. In a country with one of the highest rates of poverty in the industrialized world, with almost no social safety net to help struggling families, our teachers have to create a positive learning atmosphere in classrooms with filled with young people under stress. The teacher not only has to be someone who can transmit knowledge and skills, he or she has to be a diplomat, a counselor, a surrogate parent and occasionally a police officer. And those skills don’t just extend to the students. The parents and caretakers ( because many of working class and poor children live with grandparents or foster parents) are a challenge all by themselves as many of them are under extreme stress and act out as almost as much as their children. And then there are the local school boards, and state authorities, who are putting teachers under pressure to have their students pass standardized tests and are looking to discipline them and fire teachers if they do not produced the desired results. A teacher today faces a complex variety of tasks that few people confront on their jobs- tasks that required intellect, creativity, patience, and imagination and if all those fail, sheer stubbornness and courage.

You would think, given the difficulty of the task that teachers confront, the incredibly long hours they spend preparing lessons and grading assignments, as well as the tremendous time and expense they put into decorating their classrooms, that teachers would be revered and respected by the American public. But in fact the contrary is true. Americans, more than any people on the globe, seem to resent and even hate teachers!

How else to explain the propensity of people on all sides of the political spectrum to blame teachers for the persistence of poverty in the United States, for the failure of the United States to be economically competitive with other nations, and for disappointing test scores and graduation rates among racial minorities.. We have the spectacle of the President of the United States praising the mass firing of teachers in a town in a working class town in Rhode Island where test scores were low; a School Chancellor in the nation’s largest city demanding the publication of confidential, and often misleading, teacher rating data in the press; and a mass market film about the power of teachers that focuses exclusively on privately funded charter schools conveniently leaving out the thousands of dedicated, often brilliant public school teachers working in the nation’s high poverty districts

As the child of two New York City public schools teachers, who each spent more than thirty years in the system, and as someone who spends a good deal of time interacting with teachers in Bronx schools through a community history project I direct, I find this hostility to teachers totally misguided. I invite anyone who thinks teachers are to blame for poverty and inequality to come with me on some of my trips to Bronx public schools and see the extraordinary efforts teachers and principals make to create learning environments for children that are filled with excitement, stimulation even beauty. Look at the way classrooms and hallways are decorated. See the incredible projects teachers do with their students. See the plays and musical performances that the schools put on. And talk to the teachers and principals about what their students are up against. I will never forget the closed door meeting I had with a Bronx principal, whose school served three meals a day, where he described how many of his children started crying on Friday because they were afraid they wouldn’t eat until they came back to school on Monday. Or talk to a teacher who is working in a class where half the students don’t live with their biological parents, and get a sense of the desperate need these children have for love and affection.

I would like to see how well Secretary of Education Arne Duncan or NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein would do prepping students for tests if they taught in a Bronx middle school or high schools where half the students are on the verge of dropping out because of family pressures or problems reading and writing in English. The teachers who come to these schools and give students love as well as instruction are not cynically collecting their paychecks, they are taking responsibility for all the problems our society has neglected and for the family and community services it fails to provide

In a society without adequate day care, health care and recreation for working class families, where people have to work two or three jobs to stay in their apartments or share those apartments with multiple strangers; where young people face violence and stress in their living quarters as well as on the streets; where sports programs and music programs are only available for those who can pay; our public school teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the society

They deserve respect and support, not contempt. They are among America’s true heroes.

Mark D Naison
October 25, 2010

TTB Video #1... Dave Greene, longtime educator and current support provider for new teachers!