Marc Korashan is a career Special Education teacher, has been an instructor at Brooklyn College, a mentor to First and Second Year Teaching Fellows and a frequent commenter on this blog.
Chancellor Farina’s appointment is a kept promise: she is an educator; however, it needs to be more to truly invigorate the school system. There are many questions that she will have to address to reinvigorate and renew our school system.
This Chancellor knows, as none of the last four did, that education takes place in the classroom, in the relationship between the teacher and the student. The pundits, who were never in a classroom except as a student, will continue, as Ed in the Apple writes, “… to talk about the symbolic issues that grab the headlines, and rarely impact classrooms.” Will the Mayor and new chancellor be able to change the conversation to focus on classrooms and the elements of good teaching that are really central to student success?
The questions that come to mind for me start with whether she will allow teachers to teach the children in front of them even if this means moving away from the “workshop model” and “social engagement” where it isn’t working, to more direct instruction. I know teachers who want to move away from group instruction, it may be more effective to put children in rows and do more direct instruction, but they can’t because administration won’t allow it. Will Chancellor Farina empower these teachers to take the risk to do what they think will work better even where it challenges the Danielson and Klein imposed orthodoxy?
It is so much easier for politicians and pundits to talk about governance than teaching. Teaching is a truly complex activity that can’t be reduced to a formula (or a rubric) that fits all classes, all students, and all situations. Those of us who have spent time in classrooms and have lived with the complexity of trying to teach many individuals at once know this and value seeing teachers who do it well even when they do it in ways we didn’t or wouldn’t have predicted would work. Will the new Chancellor end the lockstep use of the Danielson rubrics or checklists to evaluate teachers who are effective in their own creative ways? Will she champion changes in the Teacher Evaluation (APPR) law and make it truly about improving teaching, retaining good educators and helping those who shouldn’t be in the classroom to recognize that and make a graceful exit?
Will the new Chancellor use the upcoming contract negotiations to revisit the professional periods and the extra time in the school day to make that time available for meaningful professional development activities? Will she hold schools accountable for the quality of the PD and how will she measure the effectiveness?
The Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott era is famous for reorganizing the school bureaucracy many times. Will the Mayor and new Chancellor be able to end the ineffective networks and replace them with a structure that truly supports teachers in classrooms? Will they take steps to ensure that principals cannot, as they do too often now, leave classrooms vacant (on the specious grounds that they can’t find a teacher even though there is a pool of ATRs who need jobs)?
Finally, as a Special Education teacher, I can’t help but wonder if the new Chancellor will take steps to make Special Education a meaningful option for those students who are truly disabled? Will she take steps to make the Alternative High Schools a real alternative for students who need them by finding metrics for evaluating those schools that recognize they must be different from typical high schools? Will she find ways to create CTE programs that work (as CoOp Tech which is being closed to allow for real estate developers to make money did) and create opportunities for students to enter the work force in trades that pay more than minimum wage (welding, HVAC, elevator repair, auto repair, electrical installation, plumbing, etc.)?
These are the questions that the Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott administration failed to address and the answers that the deBlassio/Farina administration comes up with will determine their impact and legacy. This is what the pundits and the press should be watching.