My friend Stanley passed away a days ago, he was a great
I don’t know his “value-added” or Danielson rubrics, I do know
that when I meet someone who attended our school and ask them, “who was your most memorable teacher,” they frequently say “Doc Feldstein.”
I ask them, “Why?”
“He kept his foot on my behind, he was frustrating, he pushed
and pushed and pushed, he made me angry, I went home or to the library to look things up to prove him wrong. … he made me into a student.”
Is the statute of limitation over? I admit it … Stanley and I
“scrubbed,” excuse me, re-scored Regents Exam papers. If a kid got Regents grade of 60-64 we reread the paper – I served as one of the committee of elders that tried to find an extra point to two. Commissioner King may call it cheating, Stanley would call it humanity.
Stanley was a teacher, and a trade unionist.
The first day back after a strike Stanley taught a lesson, “What is a
scab?” by writing the names of the teachers on the chalkboard who
crossedthe picket line. The kids did the rest – calling the handful of
strikebreakers by their real name, “scabs.”
And, he was a scholar, an author of a number of books about
slavery, prejudice and discrimination and a college teacher.
He never lost his love for the classroom; whether in high school
or the left-leaning kids at the New School or the transit workers and city employees working their way toward a college degree at the Worker Education Program at CCNY. From time to time we co-taught classes, and battled over the exotica of history – and drew the students into the debates: Was the dropping of the bomb at Hiroshima an act of genocide or did it save hundreds of thousands of lives? Was the Civil War leading to the end of slavery worth 600,000 lives? Are the civil rights and the gay rights movements’ equivalent? Is America the “land
of the free and the home of the brave” or a racist, class-ist plutocracy in which the rich live off the poor? By the end of the period we’d have the class battling and send them home to research and come back with facts to back up their opinions.
One of his college students told me, “… he was a pain in the ass, it was never good enough, and he was right!”
How do you “know” Stanley was a great teacher?
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote,
“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of
material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see
I had the same dispute with Charlotte Danielson – she
insisted effective teaching could be divided into elements with carefully defined descriptions of each element.
Great teachers project electricity. Stanley was a lightening bolt.
I don’t know Stanley’s Regents passing rate or his “value-added” score; I do know he impacted the lives of the students he taught
and the colleagues around him.
If you moved a teacher from a school in Bayside to a school in Brownsville will they have the same success? Will the Level 4 scores
of the Bayside kids travel with the teacher?
Of course not.
If we overlap failing schools and poverty, guess what, poverty and struggling schools are synonymous. Yes, there are highly effective
schools in poverty neighborhoods, a few, usually lead by an extraordinary staff.
When the principal leaves the staff leaves and the school frequently begins to fade.
Great teaching transcends neighborhoods.
We need more Stanley Feldsteins, more teachers who impact
student lives, lead them to work harder, to work smarter and too really care about them as human beings, not numbers on a spreadsheet.
If we keep hammering away at teachers and the public
school system we will drive away the “best and the brightest.”
Stanley will be looking down on us – pushing, criticizing, needling, calling strikebreakers “scabs” and loving every minute of it