Sunday, November 28, 2010


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




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.


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!