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Archive for February, 2013

Evaluate This!

Everyone’s talking about the breakdown in the teacher evaluation talks between the mayor and the union as if it were the only chance to fix public education in New York City. Do we need an evaluation system? Absolutely. Is it a cure-all for our educational ills? Absolutely not.

I am still in the middle of my honeymoon period with teaching, the first career I’ve truly loved. Sadly, like so many teachers in our city, newbies such as myself and grizzled veterans alike, I am developing a profound sense of regret linked to the growing sensation that I may not be cut out for the classroom, or at least the New York City classroom. I rarely feel recognized for my work. I rarely feel effective in the classroom. I rarely feel like I’m giving my students what they will need to succeed in college and beyond.

Certain mayors, governors, members of Congress and leaders in education reform constantly denigrate teachers. In fact, there are times when I feel like that is the only topic of national interest where there is a degree of political consensus: Our students are failing and teachers are to blame.

Along with most teachers I know, I’m spending 12 to 15 hours every day teaching, planning lessons, grading papers, developing presentation slides, completing paperwork, enhancing my classroom environment and calling parents. Once you add in my meals and commute, there’s barely enough time to sleep!

And, new evaluation system or no, I’m being held accountable for everything I do. Nearly every email in my inbox is marked “high importance” and then followed up with countless check-ins. Danielson rubric “feedback loops” are happening every month. Administrators march through my room nearly every week. My student data binder is thoroughly reviewed by teachers, administrators, network consultants and our superintendent.

Every time I turn around, I’m being told “Good job, but …” And every time a change is suggested to me, I implement it. Not enough student work on the walls? Fixed! Student work hung too high? Lowered! Process for completing an assignment unclear? Posted!

But when teachers need help, we’re given sympathy without assistance. Sorry — there are no office supplies available, but you’re supposed to have color-coded charts, class sets of dry erase markers, an array of options for organizers and manipulatives, and even a variety of paper choices to allow for student agency in every assignment. Sorry — there are no aligned resources for the unit you’re teaching, but still you’re supposed to find content-aligned, leveled, authentic literature for every student in every subject. These items are presented to me as non-negotiables by the city and my administration. But what about teacher non-negotiables?

Isn’t it interesting that Common Core Learning Standards were introduced without aligned curricula? Isolated task bundles full of grammatical mistakes as part of a vast trove of online garbage that I’m supposed to wade through during my free time just don’t cut it. Isn’t it unfortunate that special education reform and SESIS have been launched without effective citywide training and data-based suggestions for implementation? Principal- and network-led professional development sessions on these topics reflect the fact that school leaders themselves don’t know what’s going on with special education in New York.

Isn’t it shameful that the people demanding Universal Design for Learning, scaffolding and differentiation, Danielson-aligned teaching practices and data-driven instruction could not offer any of these cutting-edge teaching techniques themselves? I’m absolutely sick of being told the importance of visual anchors at presentations without any visual anchors!

So is a new teacher evaluation system — one that helps teachers improve — important? Absolutely. But let’s not forget that without standards-aligned curricula, robust learning resources and a dramatic improvement in teacher morale, there may not be many teachers left to evaluate.

Mr. Thompson is the pseudonym of a fourth-year elementary school teacher in Brooklyn. A version of this post first appeared on the UFT blog Edwize.org, where “New Teacher Diaries” is a regular feature. If you’re interested in writing a New Teacher Diary entry for Edwize, send an email to edwize@uft.org.

New York Teacher

New York Teacher, Jan. 31, 2013Highlights from the Jan. 31 issue of New York Teacher:

At 11th hour, mayor torpedoes evaluation deal
At 3 a.m. on Jan. 17, the day of the state deadline, the UFT and the Department of Education had reached an agreement in principle on a new evaluation plan that would have given teachers better working conditions, more voice in how they are evaluated and support for continued professional growth throughout their careers. But the mayor stepped in to sabotage the deal, and in the process forfeited at least $240 million in state education aid for city schools.

Parents want experienced school bus drivers
The city’s protracted yellow school bus strike has left both parents and teachers increasingly frustrated with Mayor Bloomberg for his failure to negotiate with the union that represents the approximately 9,000 striking drivers and matrons.

Where would we be without them?
Community volunteers like these are the backbone of many schools across the city.

Cuomo to boost school aid
Gov. Cuomo proposed a 4.4 percent increase in education spending next year, part of an overall state budget increase of 1.9 percent that signals the beginning of cautiously better fiscal times for the state and the city.

State ed commish reads DOE the riot act
State Education Commissioner John King read New York City the riot act a day after the city missed the deadline for concluding a new teacher evaluation system. Laying the blame squarely on the mayor and the Department of Education, King said the city’s failure would result in the immediate loss of $240 million in state education aid and put hundreds of millions of other state and federal dollars at risk.

Noteworthy graduates: Jon Bauer, founder, investment management firm
Jon Bauer, a co-founder, chief executive operating officer and chief investment officer of Contrarian Capital Management, which invests in troubled companies and helps them restructure their finances, was “blown away” when he first learned about economics as a boy.

School of rock
Manhattan teacher’s passion rubs off on his music students
The rock star of PS 34 moves like a dervish among his students, getting them to work through a progression of basic chords. Basic rock chords, that is — a spin on teaching music that has turned blasé students into driven musicians. Students and colleagues at this school in Manhattan’s East Village say it’s all because of music teacher Ulises Soto.

Teacher attrition up after recession-driven lull
Teachers are voting with their feet again. Though the 2008 recession and its aftermath reduced attrition among city teachers, it seems to be on the move now. According to new UFT data, teachers and other pedagogues are leaving the school system in much higher numbers than they were two years ago, even as the city has bumped up hiring.