Friday, January 14, 2011


On the way to challenging and breaking Lou Gehrig’s record for hits as a Yankee, Derek Jeter said, “If you play long enough, and you are consistent enough, good things are going to happen.” You know something? Jeter’s statement is not only true in the confines of an athletic career, it is true and appropriate in other areas as well. For me, one of those other areas is education. Nothing, and I mean nothing that happens successfully, just happens or occurs quickly. Success, or becoming good at something, takes time. Proponents for change in education, who demand to see an 80 or 90% improvement immediately simply because they said, “Let’s change the way we do this”, or because there are students who believe simply because they can do a thing successfully once, they can have continued success, do not understand the first part of Jeter’s statement.

The first part of Jeter’s statement shows us that things take time. All too often we see a finished product and that product is polished and shiny and looks like it was easy to make. Instead product, we really need to ask ourselves, “How did this product come to be what we see?” I’ll bet you any amount of money that if you are looking at anyone or anything you consider to be successful, you will discover that it took time, it required work and it required consistency.

Whenever you think of great teams and organizations, one of the most important pieces or components of that team or organization’s success is tradition- a way of being, a way of doing something, an expectation that is handed down from player to player or generation to generation. I’ve heard principals at new, small schools demanding that their schools have tradition. Tradition has to be developed

And it has to be developed over time. You cannot order it into existence. Aristotle said. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, it is a habit.” This means that excellence is borne out of consistency- that which “we repeatedly do.”

One of the most important traits of successful teams, businesses on Wall Street, schools, players, teachers, students or parents is consistency. In New York City, the Department of Education doesn’t quite get this idea. For example, instead of using the wealth of knowledge and experience readily available in teachers who have taught for twenty or thirty years, they pursue brand new teachers, who may have been in the system one or two years. Just think what would happen if Wall Street firms or teams changed completely every two or three years, or didn’t use the knowledge of their more senior staff. Imagine if Coca Cola or Pepsi Cola or Budweiser changed their formulas every two to three years. Do you think they would have had the success they have enjoyed for so many years?

Departments of education that change their systems or instructors every two or three years simply cannot be successful. Period. To succeed, they MUST develop or use symbols or ideas that make sense, that work consistently, that incorporate the responsibility for students to fulfill their duties as students and create expectations that can be handed down form one student to another, year after year after year, as opposed to using things that work once in awhile or that work only with one or two groups of people.

For all the money and the new philosophies and the theories and technology, departments of education are adding to their systems, there will be no change or success without time, effort and consistency. Whether you are talking about sports, business, education, medicine, research, parenting, teaching or learning, the very simple fact is that you just cannot have success without time, effort and consistency. Period.

- Bernard Keller

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Book Coming Out This Spring that Should Be Required Reading for Anyone Who Cares About Schools and Teaching

As Bad as They Say?Three Decades of Teaching in the Bronx
Janet Grossbach Mayer
ISBN: 9780823234172Book (Paperback)Fordham University Press, Empire State Editions5 1/2 x 8 1/2150 pagesApril 2011


"Janet Mayer's book is a page-turner about real life in urban classrooms today."—Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

"Janet Mayer's As Bad As They Say is a brilliant and badly need answer to business minded 'educational reformers' who think that nothing good happened in American education before they took over. The story of a teacher who spent forty years of her life in Bronx public schools, it shows that the love of teachers for their students is the true transformative force in American education, not mindless imposition of standardized tests. Mayer turns her Bronx students, who learn under the most daunting conditions, into heroes, but in the process reminds us that great teachers are motivated by compassion as well as a love of learning. Signficantly, the book ends with a powerful, carefully documented attack on 'No Child Left Behind' a piece of legislation that seeks to render great teachers like Mayer irrelevant and invisible."—Mark Naison, author of White Boy: A Memoir

Rundown, vermin-infested buildings. rigid, slow-to-react bureaucratic systems. Children from broken homes and declining communities. How can a teacher succeed? How does a student not only survive but also come to thrive? It can happen, and As Bad as They Say? tells the heroic stories of Janet Mayer’s students during her 33-year tenure as a Bronx high school teacher.
In 1995, Janet Mayer’s students began a pen-pal exchange with South African teenagers who, under apartheid, had been denied an education; almost uniformly, the South Africans asked, “Is the Bronx as bad as they say?” This dedicated teacher promised those students and all future ones that she would write a book to help change the stereotypical image of Bronx students and show that, in spite of overwhelming obstacles, they are outstanding young people, capable of the highest achievements.

She walks the reader through the decrepit school building, describing in graphic detail the deplorable physical conditions that students and faculty navigate daily. Then, in eight chapters we meet eight amazing young people, a small sample of the more than 14,000 students the writer has felt honored to teach.

She describes her own Bronx roots and the powerful influences that made her such a determined teacher. Finally, the veteran teacher sounds the alarm to stop the corruption and degradation of public education in the guise of what are euphemistically labeled “reforms” (No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top). She also expresses optimism that public education and our democracy can still be saved, urgently calling on all to become involved and help save our schools.

Janet Grossbach Mayer has just completed her 50th year as an award-winning high school teacher of English and reading. For 45 years, she taught in NYC schools, 33 of them in the Bronx, and for the past 5 years she has been a home instructor for Port Jervis, N.Y., schools.She has no plans to retire.