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Archive for September, 2013

Many steps to go for college-ready

For every 100 high school freshmen who enrolled in New York City high school in 2007, 66 graduated on time and only 21 graduated ready to do college-level work. For those unprepared grads who then enrolled in CUNY community colleges, where most non-college-ready students go, just 16 percent got an associate’s degree within three years.

This is the bitter context in which Common Core Learning Standards were launched.

These are also the opening stats in the Center for New York City Affairs’ insightful new report, “Creating College Ready Communities,” which lays out the obstacles high school students must overcome on their way to a life after graduation.

Center researchers spent four years in 14 city schools, and came out with a detailed picture of why college-readiness is such an elusive goal.

Among its findings:

  • Most students enter 9th grade reading below standards. In the schools the researchers studied in depth, “struggling readers were the norm.”
  • Students appreciated how supportive their teachers were, but a curriculum focused on Regents prep was “boring” for students and teachers. One teacher wrote, “Too much energy is spent on short-term passing — and not enough energy on long-term college planning.”
  • Many students don’t focus on college until 11th grade — far too late. There are not enough guidance counselors and college planning programs in the middle schools and early years of high school.
  • Courses that lead to college-level work were lacking. Only 28 of the 342 schools reviewed offered Algebra 2, Chemistry and Physics. In 46 schools none of these subjects were offered.

“The next mayor will have to do more. He or she will bear responsibility for a deeper transformation of the system, one that succeeds at providing students at an earlier age with much stronger reading, writing and analytic skills,” the report concludes. “Just as important schools will need to become much more effective at college guidance and life skills training.”

The report offers several recommendations, among them a portfolio assessment process that will reward students beyond a Regents-passing level; a systemwide post-secondary counseling curriculum; and more comprehensive involvement by CUNY.

Today in Education

In this weekend’s New York Times, columnist Joe Nocera explores how teacher preparation programs leave many teachers unprepared for the realities of urban classrooms:

Both [teachers] have undergraduate degrees in elementary education, yet they both recalled how lost they felt when they first stood in front of a classroom. They hadn’t done nearly enough student teaching, they felt, and, in any case, the student teaching they had done hadn’t prepared them to deal with issues, as Edel put it, “like poverty, drugs, crime, and hunger” that she was seeing on a daily basis. Melinda recalls thinking that even the most basic elements of her job — classroom management, organization, lesson planning — were things she had to figure out on her own, after she had begun teaching. When I asked them what they had learned in college, they shouted in unison: theory!

“Shouldn’t teacher education be precisely what the reform movement should be focused on?” asks Nocera.

New York Teacher Round-Up

Highlights from the September 26 issue of the New York Teacher.

Where is the curriculum?
Thousands of teachers began the school year without promised Common Core-aligned textbooks, anchor texts, trade texts, teacher guides or manipulative materials, forcing them to improvise last-minute lessons and units.

Charter’s inclusion causes hard feelings
Success Academy’s expansion into Washington Irving HS left teachers there feeling like have-nots.

Three teachers, one opening day
From cookies to calculators, how three teachers spent their first days of school.

Winner gets boost from his teachers
Kimberly Faraci, a 1st-grade teacher at PS 19 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, had never volunteered for a political campaign before. But that changed when she learned Antonio Reynoso, 30, was a Democratic candidate for the City Council. Faraci and Reynoso go back — way back — to the days when he was in her 1st-grade class.

Saved by her health care
Rosa Martinez, a family child care provider, suffered from two forms of cancer — but beat the disease thanks, in part, to the health insurance won for providers by the UFT.

Unions make a difference

Fueled by the “do-over”

by Ms. P, special education teacher

On the day I was first hired as a teacher, my principal told me that teaching was a magical profession filled with endless possibilities.  I assumed she meant that children were magical little creatures and their minds were sponges ready to be filled up by teachers.  While that may be true, she meant something totally different.  Her excitement every year was fueled by the “do-over,” or, to be more eloquent, a new beginning.  This concept would not make sense to me until I began my second year of teaching. Then it hit me!

Every September since that day, I experience a “New Year’s Eve” type of feeling, where I reflect and resolve.  For me it starts with the plan book, blank and full of possibilities.  I sit quietly with my book, and compare it to my last year’s book.  My mind wanders to the lessons that were small victories for me, and to the bitter defeats that I wished had never happened.  It is here, in the stillness of my plan book, that I reflect and forgive myself for the areas of my teaching that may have shortchanged my students.  I balance that with the moments where I know I made a positive impact, even if slight.

The plan book presents me with the opportunity to make a new year resolution.  What are my intentions for this year?  How can I reach more students? Where will these kids allow me to take them?  How can I balance academics with character education?  Well, this is where I, and many of you are at this moment.  If you think about it, it’s the “do-over” that keeps us coming back.  No other profession allows for this restart that wipes the slate clean from the past and allows us to learn and move on.

I have incorporated this aspect of my teaching into the classroom as well.  In the days ahead, I will ask my students to reflect on the last year they had, and note some areas that were positive, and perhaps some areas where they could have made better choices.  From there, we set goals for the current year.  It is the awareness of where you have been that allows you access to where you want to go.  This gift of reflection and forgiveness is a life skill that is easily transferrable to any aspect of life.

So, to my colleagues, I wish you a “happy new year”!  May the magic of the “do-over” empower you to reflect and resolve.  Forgive, learn, do better, because our students deserve the endless possibilities you have to offer them!

Ms. P is the pseudonym of a special education teacher in Queens. If you’d like to write for the New Teacher Diaries, email edwize@uft.org.

I’m a temporary teacher, and that’s OK

by Frankie Ursula, high school history and economics teacher

Punching my alarm clock again, for the last snooze around 6:55 a.m., I am dream-thinking. In that weird place between wake and sleep, I slowly recall that I am a high school history teacher. Every day I willingly return to the one place that I once wanted so desperately to flee from that I graduated two semesters early.

For several hours, I will teach street-smart kids how to prove people wrong by knowing where Cambodia is and how to express the gravity of what happened there. We get to talk about things that matter for a few brief moments between the whining and procrastination after I must transition into an obligatory assessment of their skills and knowledge. Teenagers have their voices heard, no matter how profanity-riddled, in my classroom, if nowhere else. I have become an anachronism of every awesome teacher that I’ve ever had. Students with learning disabilities or English Language Learners offer their opinions on controversial topics. Some kid started watching the news for the first time last week and then actually volunteered his hand to ask if North Korea was going to bomb us. I mix in a YouTube video or two along with traditional news sources to widen their avenues of perspective.

Nevertheless, the administration is on my back with a new jargon-peppered list of improbable things they need to immediately see upon entering my class for an observation. All students will be engaged and excited about learning the privileged stories of people who’ve changed the world, but have never been to Brooklyn. At least today, Jane Doe from the DR asked me how anyone knows which religion is really real if there are so, so many all over the world. That seed of doubt in the presumed infallibility of organized religion must count for something somewhere.

On a weekly basis last year, I was very conflicted and angry about my new job. Or I was amused. Or I was already over it, on LinkedIn editing my profile. I had my hands in my hair, begging someone to tell me what a monarchy was for the thirtieth time since September. I high-fived a kid who just finished an in-class essay early after skipping nearly two weeks of my class. I often handed out candy to condition thoughtful responses and this did not work as well as I was led to believe it would. The bell would ring, I’d be ambushed by the next group of students. I would sit at the back of my empty room at the end of the day, crying again after another derailed lesson full of verbal abuse. Harsh words that I was expected to deflect or ignore because there is no such thing as detention anymore. I was shaped from the clay of a new breed of instructors, expected to be an emotionally consistent robot and child behavioral psychologist. I made frequent calls to family, friends, mentors, lovers; anyone who would calm me down and give me some practical advice. They told me to quit or to toughen up. They said, why don’t you go apply at a white school, a private school, a “good” school. They said this without sarcasm or shame and I replied, no, that’s not it. It is just that I don’t feel good like they tell you martyrs are supposed to feel right before dying for what they believe in.

This year going in, I’m a bit more hopeful. I’m a temporary teacher (statistically, this is most likely true) trying to prove my relative effectiveness to the people who pay me. Some think that a daily Skype session could replace me. To society, I am the pathetic failure of “those who can’t do, teach”, or I’m bravely starring in the endless sequel to Dangerous Minds, or I’m the lazy overpaid troublemaker who won’t shut up about The Liberal Agenda. I’m reading another article about some idiot educator who has just abused their power on a profoundly inappropriate level. I’m looking for the articles about my teacher friend who taught an 18-year-old freshman how to finally write a five-paragraph analytical essay. Or my friend who dresses up in wigs and co-stars in the short videos created by her students with emotional behavioral disorders in the film club. Or any positive press about all my colleagues who don’t secretly think that their students are too stupid or too damaged to really give a damn about. I’m sure as hell not going to do this forever, and that’s okay right now.

That’s how this thing works, our education system. Some other fresh blood will soon seep into the broken machine of public schooling. It will be their turn to try to interpret and apply the latest band aid solution to our gaping wound of unequal outcomes. She will ask me for advice and I will tell her something that works on Monday but fails by Wednesday. By Friday, we will both be at separate bars drinking our way through a window of respite from our endless lists of things to do. Or we’ll be at separate gyms trying to work mental stress out through the vehicles of our tired bodies. Pick your poison.

They all expect us to solve every socio-economic problem in this country through teaching the youth of tomorrow how to pass state exams. Our efforts are not the salve they seek. Teachers are not politicians, policy makers, economic advisers, and therapists, though some retired teachers do enter those fields hoping to bring in a privileged perspective. We are overwhelmed, earnest people clinging to the ideals that got us through our first year teaching. And here comes the fall again, licking at the last few rays of summer.

Frankie Ursula is the pseudonym of a second-year high school history and economics teacher in Brooklyn. If you’d like to write an entry for the New Teacher Diaries, email edwize@uft.org.

Choosing to focus on teaching

by Mr. Gillbury, high school English teacher

I am criminally overworked. “Preps” seem to be a thing of the past, as we now have department meetings or grade team meetings during the day. “Lunch” is no longer an eating period as the microwave in the teacher’s lounge seems to have been misplaced. In fact, the entire teacher’s lounge has been misplaced, and yes, that can happen. I’ve been staying late to decorate my room and make a sorry attempt at planning and grading, but it’s usually just a time to try and get some energy back.

I’ve had meetings with the principal and AP where I had to choose how often I will be observed. They seemed to be trying to figure out the new system, and are more confused than the brand-new teachers. We were passively threatened to have our sub lessons submitted with copies of the work for all students done, though the person that makes copies for us is overwhelmed with an insane amount of copies to make.

I’ve had meetings with my department. Meetings with my grade team. Meetings about what we should be talking about in meetings. No, seriously, we actually discuss how to properly have a meeting, what an agenda should look like, all of the stuff to make a school look like it’s a well run corporation. The humanity on that side of things is gone. Perhaps forever.

My new students are calm and respectful…for now. They say that every year you teach, it gets easier as your confidence grows. I do feel that way, that I have finally come into my own as a teacher. Too bad there are all of these new changes, so everything I have mastered over the past few years will be viewed as obsolete. I can hear the chaos in the hallway as I teach my drop-dead-silent classes, and I act as if I don’t hear a thing. The kids take their cue from me and stay focused. Again, I don’t expect this honeymoon period to last. Because…

I teach students I had last year. One group of them is doing great. Focused, working hard, respectful. The other group is not really disrespectful, but they’re wild. Oh, they are wild and they make me laugh, which is fun and we get along, but it’s not the best for teaching.

There’s a lot going on in the classroom, and I have planning, co-planning, and grading to do. But it just feels like there’s so much beyond what you’d expect from a teacher now. It’s hard to even keep track of all the emails and the vague threats if we don’t fill out forms and send emails to the right people and go to the right meeting, have the right things up on our walls, and, I suppose, even teach how they want us to teach. Though teaching itself seems to be the least discussed part about “teaching.” And yet…that’s what I’m choosing to focus on.

Mr. Gillbury is the pseudonym of a 4th-year English teacher in Brooklyn. If you’d like to submit a column for the New Teacher Diaries, please email edwize@uft.org.

Missing Headline: NYC Teachers the Best in State

Here is a headline that was missing in the NYC papers this past week:

NYC Teachers: The Best Teachers in the State. 

 And here is the missing lead to the article.

An analysis of New York State’s growth scores reveals that NYC teachers are twice as likely to be considered Highly Effective compared to teachers in the rest of the state, and about half as likely to be Ineffective.  That analysis is based on the results of the state’s teacher growth model and this year’s new math and reading tests.

And here is the missing sidebar:

2013 Growth Score Results


Percent of Teachers in City

Percent of Teachers in

Rest of State

Highly Effective












True, that story would be based on test scores in ELA and math, grades 4-8.  True  again, the state used its statistical growth model formulas to arrive at those results. And, true a third time,  test scores and growth models can never be the only measure of teacher effectiveness.

But still. When have those limitations ever stopped the press from publishing test-score stories about teachers in the past?

For example, two years ago, it was front-page news when some researchers tied the “quality” of  4th-grade teachers to the marginally increased incomes of their students two decades later. We are talking here about a single study that made a cause and effect link between two events happening 20 years apart, and a salary increase of a few hundred bucks a year. Is that front page news?  Yet there is was, and it got the intended traction, too — trotted out at dozens of forums nationwide as a justification for firing teachers based on their students’ test scores.

That’s not the only example, of course. When schools — and implicitly their teachers — are labeled F’s and D’s based on test scores, the press is happy to carry those stories.

And let’s not even discuss all the eagerness around the value-added TDRs.

But when it comes to news that essentially says “Let’s stop the war on NYC teachers” ?  Nothing made the printed press. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the folks at Gotham Schools, we may never have known.

But to return to the findings on our teachers.  Here is what else the New York Post, or Times, or some other paper could have said:

Only one in 20 teachers in the rest of the state was found to be “highly effective” — but in New York, that number was one in 10 (11%).  And while the rest of the state had more Ineffective teachers than Highly Effective ones, in the city there were three times more Top Teachers than struggling ones according to their scores.  

 NYC math and reading teachers earned those results in spite of the intense challenges that their students often face. More city kids arrive at school learning disabled, poor, and new to the English language.

 These findings are based on a very large data pool of data  (about 40,000 teachers and well over one million kids).  And this is actually the second year that city teachers outperformed the state.  Last year, the differences seemed smaller, but  researchers attribute the widening gap to  improvements in the statistical models, which better capture the results.  

Really, and truly, I do know how scary it can be to validate our existence with any of that.

But in a world that is perfectly willing to debase us through scores — why can’t the world out there extol our virtues, too?

So, congratulations to our teachers, and our schools.  We know that tests can’t begin to capture what you do, and that growth models can’t capture all the challenges we face.  But they do say something — and it bears repeating in a public space.

According to Plan?

by Brook Lyn, special education teacher

A teacher’s life can be measured by a long chain of plans. We plan our days, our lessons, even our free time.  Teachers spend their lives helping young people plan theirs.  I find myself making plans only for them to be altered.

I walked into my District 75 school in Brooklyn on September 3 planning to build my classroom.  I planned on entering the building, seeing my roster, seeing my colleagues, and finally designing the room eight students and I will call home for 7 hours a day.  I had to re-assemble the furniture, do the bulletin boards, put up posters, and organize my files and the students’ IEP binders.

As I entered the freshly painted red doors, the principal handed me a folder containing an agenda.  I visualized the monkey wrench being hurled at my plans, shattering them.  The agenda had the usual welcome back presentation and meetings with assistant principals.  But after lunch, I expected to see classroom setup on the schedule.  All of my careful planning and lists on my Notes app couldn’t prepare me for this… an afternoon filled with a 3-hour meeting.

I had forgotten about the MoSL meeting.  I had been selected for the school’s Measures of Student Learning committee, along with four other teachers, to discuss the local measure of Advance [the new teacher evaluation system].  How could I have forgotten about this meeting?  I had taken a course given by Charlotte Danielson on Knowledge Delivery Systems in preparation for this team.

After the shock dissipated, my mind wandered to my classroom planning to-do lists.  I immediately began thinking about the late nights I would have to work in order to make up for the time I’d be spending in the MoSL committee meeting.

I was anxious throughout the morning sessions and even during lunch.  I envisioned the rest of the school having brightly colored bulletin boards and perfect classrooms that were ready for students to explore, while my bulletin boards showed only exposed corkboard.  However, my work on the MoSL committee was more important.

Ten minutes before the MoSL meeting, I met my staff.  I had one para educator I worked with the previous year and the other two were new to the 8:1:1 setting.   I quickly welcomed my paras to the classroom.  We briefly chatted about our summers, or rather the two weeks between Chapter 683 and the first day of school.  Then, I raced to my meeting.

At 2:50, I made my way back to what I was expecting to be a dreary, bare classroom.  I looked through the door’s windowpanes and was shocked to see one para standing on a chair hanging yellow bulletin board paper, a second para laminating the desk plates I bought for the students, and a third para stapling the borders around the perimeter of the bulletin boards.  The desks were in the neat rows I had planned, the classroom library was organized, and the computers were reconnected.

I planned every minute of my day, but I didn’t factor in collaboration.  I’m always the person others count on.  It was refreshing to feel like I could count on them.  They exceeded my expectations and set a tone of cooperation for the year.  All of my plans didn’t prepare me for teamwork.

Brook Lyn is the pseudonym of a special education teacher in Brooklyn. If you’d like to submit an entry for the New Teacher Diaries, email edwize@uft.org.

I Teach

As I reflect on my career and make my way into my 10th year of teaching, I realize that despite the grueling system that controls the teachers and children of New York City public schools, I will continue to do all I can to build good character and set a strong foundation for our future generation. I am very happy with my classroom and am ready for the challenges this year will provide. I realize that teaching several years and having significant experience never makes it easier to do what I do. Every year brings new children, new circumstances, and an increasingly impossible system to adhere to.

I have compiled a list of all the job titles I hold. I know teachers will definitely agree with this list. Here they are in no particular order: Mom, Dad, interior decorator, nurse, financial planner, psychologist, mediator, babysitter, author, voice-over actress, theatre actress, custodian, construction worker, electrician, magician, singer, artist, college and career planner (yes, in kindergarten and even pre-K, the DOE says we are getting the children college and career ready), analyst, curriculum writer, motivational coach, event planner, pilot (because I take children places they never knew existed and have only dreamed of) and oh yeah, I TEACH.

I am a constant in a child’s life. I am a motivator. I help children reach for the stars. I help parents help their children reach for the stars.

I am a spender. I buy for my classroom and students the same way I buy for my house and relatives. I give my entire being to the children under my care and I am wiped out at the end of each day.

I TEACH. It’s a short word with a hefty responsibility and long definition.

Michelle Glorioso is a pre-kindergarten teacher at PS 216 in Brooklyn.