“I Am a Senior Teacher and a Good Teacher.” How Do We Know? How Do We Convert Experience in Effectiveness? How Do We Fix, Not Close Schools?

As the turnaround school fiasco simmered and bubbled the teachers in the twenty-four schools as well as teachers in phase-out schools have increasingly posted comments on the blogs asserting that they are both senior teachers and good teachers. Some have blamed the kids, others the principal who chose not to retain them.

“My salary is too high; s/he can replace me with two newbies?”

“There’s a bias against senior teachers, the new one’s will be compliant.”

“S/he is afraid of us; we have much more classroom teaching experience and know a lot more about teaching than s/he does.”

Teachers aver they are “good” teachers. For a decade or two, or more, they have been observed once or twice a year, if that, by their supervisor. The observations are rote, a few sentences of praise, a suggestion, and the final line. “This was a satisfactory lesson.”

Teachers argue, “I do a good job with the kids that bother to come to school.” Teachers make phone calls home, try and work with guidance staffs, and, complain that it’s really the job of the principal to get kids to come to school.

Chronic absenteeism is endemic, and a leading factor in stumbling school achievement,

Last year, in 12 of New York City’s 32 school districts, well over 25 percent of primary school children were chronically absent from school, missing more than 10 percent of the school year.

In five of these districts, fully 30 percent of the primary school children, kindergarten through fifth grade, were chronically absent.

Lateness and cutting further reduces attendance in the first and last period of the school day.

Teachers focus on the kids that come to school.

I hear over and over, “Come to my class any day, the kids are well-behaved, I’m prepared with a lesson, and I’m a good teacher.”

Using results on the 2010 ELA/Math exam the state’s consultant, American Institutes for Research, ran the data and concluded that 8% of teachers were highly effective, 85% either effective or developing and 7% ineffective.

How do we identify the 7%? Are the teachers in the turnaround schools disproportionately part of the 7%?

While the teachers in the turnaround schools assert they are “good teachers” we have no evidence; mechanical observations year after year by assistant principals and principals, who may or may not be competent is not evidence.

Under the new state teacher evaluation system, i. e., APPR, sixty percent of the evaluation will be based on some iteration of classroom observations and other school-based tools. The state suggests possibilities,

* Multiple observations, including at least one unannounced visit utilizing a state approved rubric.

* Observations by trained evaluators independent of the school.

* Observations by trained in-school peer teachers,

* Observations using video of classroom practice by approved evaluators.

* Structural review of student work and/or teacher artifacts using “portfolio” or “evidence-binder” processes.

* Feedback from students, parents and other teachers using structured survey tools.

* Teacher attendance.

* Teacher self-evaluation.

The governor has set a deadline of January 2013 for schools districts and local unions to reach an agreement and submit plans to the state. As of this writing about 190 of the 700 school districts in the state have submitted plans.

For their entire career the teacher expectation was command and control. An orderly classroom was the priority and. of course, kids passing the final assessment, be it a final exam or a regents exam.

In classroom after classroom at the secondary school level teacher-student interactions are limited to occasional questions requiring brief answers, frequently by a handful of kids, and dominated by teacher talk. After all, this is what they’ve have done for a career and always received praise.

Mike Schmoker, one of my favorite education writers, a longtime teacher and school administrator is a sharp critic of the “flavor of the month,” his latest book, “Focus,” is a direct hands on approach to describing an effective classroom.

Mike Schmoker—zeros in on what he calls the “three essential elements” of high-quality schooling: coherent curriculum, effective whole-class instruction, and purposeful reading and writing.

“In a great majority of our schools,” Schmoker says with characteristic boldness, these three elements “will do more than any combination of efforts to ensure that record numbers of students learn and are prepared for college, careers, and citizenship.”

Schmoker describes a pared down but rich body of academic content knowledge that would allow teachers to delve deeply into essential subject-area topics and draw on a variety of source materials. Such deep exposure to subject matter, he argues, is the necessary basis for developing students’ critical-thinking skills.

In outlining his approach to effective instruction, meanwhile, Schmoker repeatedly makes use of the term “interactive lecture.” As he describes it, this is a form of whole-class lecture “where the focus is on the teacher’s words and directions,” but where ample opportunities are created—indeed, at least every five minutes—for discussion, peer-to-peer collaboration, and “quick-writing.” At the heart of interactive lecturing, Schmoker adds, “we find guided practice, formative assessment, and ongoing adjustment to instruction.” In Schmoker’s ideal classroom, the teacher is constantly circulating and checking for student understanding

Finally, forming the spine of Schmoker’s approach—and infusing both curriculum and instruction—is an intensive emphasis on what he calls “authentic literacy.” Simply put, Schmoker believes that students should be doing a great deal more close reading and analytical writing than they commonly do

In the twenty-four turnaround schools we have a pool of teachers, the vast majority of whom are experienced and probably fall in the middle 85 percent.

The state has suggested a range of evaluative school-based tools, some traditional and others new, that have to be negotiated with the union.

Mike Schmoker provides an instructional pathway that I believe is teacher-friendly and certainly achievable.

What we require is a structure, a collaborative environment in which management and labor and community can jointly support each other. Randi Weingarten and Michael Mulgrew suggest a look at the former Chancellor’s District,

In the days of the Chancellor’s District, schools entered the district in June and were ready with new programs in place by September. There is no reason we cannot enact a similar, fast-track transformation — using federal dollars — in the 24 struggling schools whose fates now hang in the balance.

The only difference between that time and today is collaboration. At that time, when we needed to fix schools, we stood together to do it: the mayor, the chancellor, the Board of Education, the State Education Department and the UFT.

We are ready to work with the mayor and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to fix, not close, our struggling schools, including taking part in real negotiations to reach an agreement on teacher evaluations. We know we can transform those schools — but first we need the city to transform its approach to them.

The clock is ticking: the governor, the commissioner, the regents, the mayor and the legislature should accept the hand of the union and immediately begin to work together to fix, not close schools.

NOTE: We’ll be at the American Federation of Teachers Convention 7-25/7-30, follow us on Twitter @edintheapple.


2 responses to ““I Am a Senior Teacher and a Good Teacher.” How Do We Know? How Do We Convert Experience in Effectiveness? How Do We Fix, Not Close Schools?

  1. The Mayor won’t capitulate, and Walcott merely serves the Mayor and their political careers, be this their swan song or penultimate act.
    Interactive lecturing doesn’t always work, and it’s a new playing field with Core expectations.
    Also, little reliable research is focused on high-risk students who are years behind in content. This is why Diane Ravitch originally proposed charters as experimental grounds for teaching methods for those students. Of course, that is not happening in any large or medium-scale way.
    So, no silver bullets, no cooperation from the City, no reliable plans at all. Walcott, though he may personally care very much about kids, is a stooge, and Suransky is just part of Team Bloomberg it seems. Gates is a bumbling and dangerous idiot. Arne? Obama? Clues? Any pearls of wisdom from the broken shells of failure? Hopes for opportunity-rich disasters, Arne? Words, Obama? Meet for a beer over these blunders? Hey, what would Lincoln do?


  2. Retired- no more Public Enemy Number One

    Lincoln? He’d have “freed the teachers.” None of the “experts” would ever dream of tapping the collective pool of wisdom among teachers as to what could possibly work.

    Instead, teachers again have to apologize for their very existence, for their seniority, dedication, experience, and also for the chronic absentees, the economy, and everything else. It’s always the teacher who is at fault.

    Until that mindset changes, if it ever will, we will always need strong unions working for the sake of the students and yes, even for teachers!

    The present dialog has a union pleading for cooperation from an administration only interested in assigning blame, not in solving the problems.

    Will there EVER be any hope?


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