An Experienced Teacher Tells the Chancellor: It’s About Instruction, Not Structure

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.

12 responses to “An Experienced Teacher Tells the Chancellor: It’s About Instruction, Not Structure

  1. A comprehensive review of Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott on Diane Ravitch’s blog
    found that the organizational structures and funding policies failed to improve outcomes, the measures of school and teacher performance invented to create “accountability” were invalid, unreliable, and unfair, the policy of closing schools and replacing the closed schools with new schools is a failure and a portfolio strategy based on market-choice and charter schools did not help students


  2. Great essay! He is right on. Who is listening?


  3. Read a great book recently…I’m Gonna Teach, by Ken Karcinell.Talks about a man who grew up in The Parside Projects in The Bx., attendede DeWittClinton HS, and upon his graduation drove trucks, before finally after being pressured by his mom took the sub teaching exam and was subsequently assigned to The FRederick Douglas JHS in HArlem, where he spent the first 12 years of his career.It was during that time that he realized his true potential, rose within the ranks to Ap, and was then forcibly transferred to Bed STuy owing to the budget crunch in 1975. He remained in D16 fro the entirey of his career tacking on 23 more years. Throughout his book he speaks to successes under the most trying of times. During those times, he didnt need Danielson to teach him about Learnig Rich Environment, or the need to group students for instruction. He didnt care whether he was assigned below grade level pupils, above or average, his approach was always to communicate to those students that he expected their best efforts, and intended to challenge their abilities in all ways. SOmetime, they even sat in row fashion one behind the other. It wasnt always an easy sell, the 60s…70s..80..90s..Those decades saw educational pundits going off in every direction imaginable, but thru it all,he knew that children learned best when they ENJOYED the learning experience. I hope Ms. Farina can reflect on those day as Ken has.By the way they’re both the same age!


  4. Eric Nadelstern

    And the Chancellor should do all those things because in the past, when kids sat in rows and teachers taught from the front of the room, when no one had ever heard of Charlotte Danielson or the Common Core, when schools were organized geographically by politically corrupt districts, when PD took the place for accountability for student outcomes, when we issued completion certificates to sp ed students simply for coming to school, when CTE/Voc Ed schools trained students to be cosmotologists:

    a. Half the students failed to graduate.
    b. There was no accountability for teachers, principals or superintendents.
    c. Low performing schools continued so for decades.
    d. The public had lost confidence in poublic education.
    e. All of the above.


  5. Eric,
    You miss the point. I am not arguing for a return to the corrupt school districts nor am I saying that everyone should be employing direct instruction from the front of the room at all times, nor am I arguing for a return to an accountability system that didn’t work for teachers or principals.

    I am arguing that teaching is a very complex activity and that teachers should have the freedom to do what they think will work for their students in their current classes. They should be helped to evaluate the efficacy of their choices, be given PD that truly helps them see and try out new methods, and held accountable only for those things in their control.

    A graduation rate even of 100% that sends students who need remedial courses when they get to college is not an achievement to brag about. The test score measure of college readiness is clearly inadequate as college readiness is as much about self-discipline as skills.

    I truly believe that if the new Chancellor focuses on the issues I raised, then she will be able to find ways to improve the system because she will be focused on improving instruction and not on rearranging the deck chairs and spinning numbers to make herself and the Mayor look good.

    This is a slower, but more effective way, of improving schools then any top down governance change.


  6. marc’s comment to Eric “I am arguing that teaching is a very complex activity and that teachers should have the freedom to do what they think will work for their students in their current classes. ” goes beyond instruction..Teaching is dynamic interaction w/ a student and if that student has a disability there are many factors and unknowns that are reflected in what the teacher needs to do to enable, facilitate and enhance learning. The teacher must use information from related services, must understand transdisciplinary evaluation information and identify the individual needs of students based on the evaluation; teacher must use evidence to arrange and utilize resources within and outside of the classroom to meet the physical, social, psychological and academic needs of the students . The teacher uses evidence to implement universal design and construct a climate and structures within the classroom, school and home which is responsive to and supportive of the student; the teacher constantly represents the student and their family as valued persons with rights, responsibilities and freedoms which must be ensured and and establishes and maintains lines of communication between the classroom, school , home and community. I hope the new chancellor broadens the system to support teachers in there role and responsibility which includes instruction and goes beyond instruction.


    • Mark,
      Your comment goes to the heart of what I was talking to when I said that I hoped that the new chancellor would take steps to make Special Education meaningful. I couldn’t agree more about the need to integrate a host of services for students with disabilities to create a comprehensive program that meets an individual student’s needs. Currently the system lacks the resources and will to do that kind of work outside of D75.


  7. It is about poor leadership from the top in most schools. Also the leader and their staff does not help new teachers to become good teachers. Help is needed in this area and support is needed for new teachers. We know that somethings have to be important for success in the classrooms, discipline comes first and control of the class, and the social aspects are just important as the academic aspects. Teachers should come to school dressed and looking like professionals, and set examples for their students and be good role models for them. Content should be taught and just to take test, communication is needed between the students and teachers. Space is needed in schools that has been lost to the charter school in many buildings, and the teachers have no place to plan for their classes. Check out these things and there are many more that could be mentioned. I taught for 40 years in the middle school, and had great success with my students, and all of this was one in Central Harlem.

    Edouard E. Plummer

    One person can make a difference in the life of our young people and I did and also founded The Wadleigh Scholars Program, that has saved the lives of many youth of the community, and still doing this great work.


  8. Nancy S. Dunetz

    Governance exists in any community that consists of more than one person. It begins with the family. Children who grow up in families that work together come to school prepared to work with others. Children who grow up in authoritarian families or families in which their curiosity is stifled come to school expecting to be directed. The same is true of teachers. It is the job of the principal first and foremost to trust her faculty and see to it that the faculty trusts their students. It is the job of the principal to assure that her teachers know or learn how to work collaboratively so they can serve as models for their students. It is the job of the principal to assure that her teachers continue learning and growing, not only as pedagogues or “imparters of knowledge”, but as real human beings exploring the world; that they learn along with their students. It is the job of the principal to assure that the curriculum being taught is appropriate to the students in her charge, regardless of the dictates of the flawed Common Core. (If you want to know what I perceive as some of the flaws, since I have been working on it for a year, ask Peter to give you my private contact information.) These ideas apply equally to principals, superintendents, chancellors, mayors, governors, presidents. We all see what happens at every level when cooperation is not part of the value system. To me, cooperation and trust are central to the whole cause. Is it achievable?


  9. Nadelstern is too smart to make a straw man argument, right? Maybe I just misinterpreted what he wrote, or he misinterpreted the original post. Anyway, no one could argue with the notion that kids learn better when they are interested in the lesson. Of course, the last chancellor told me kids were not bored in school. One million kids, none of them bored. Just amazing!


  10. I wish I had more respect for Mr. Nadelstern, I really do. So much of what he says is BS. Many kids did very well sitting in rows. Poor kids come to school with so many problems – sitting in groups doesn’t solve them. There was always accountability — teachers cared if kids learned. Low performing schools don’t work because you close them and open other low performing schools in their place. In fact, be honest, the schools that did well under Mr. Nadelstern were the new schools that were opened and allowed to hand pick their students. Mr. Nadelstern is in love with the sound of his own voice. He’s a wind bag who thinks if he says the same thing over and over, people will believe them. As for graduation rates, it’s easy to raise the graduation rates by passing kids on so that they arrive at the end functionally illiterate. That’s Mr. Nadelstern’s legacy.


  11. The good news is, the new department administator knows what all of these comments are about! She is an educatior!! Goodness knows there are many theories of education– but the truly good news is that we are now able to discuss education and niether business, pollitics, nor power-moves. We know we need some form of district system, some sort of actual educational support centers, some vision of the utilizatuion of our space and teachers


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