[This op-ed originally appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of the New York Teacher.]
Newly appointed Chancellor Carmen Fariña told Department of Education staff during her first day on the job that we need to put joy back in the school system.
Now that is a word we haven’t heard from a schools chancellor in a long time. The Bloomberg administration seemed intent on the opposite goal — sucking the joy out of education.
Fariña also recognizes that at the center of everything that schools do is teaching and learning. “All change happens in the classroom,” she said.
It always has.
Even through 12 years of disruption and damage to schools caused by the Bloomberg administration, UFT members have never stopped bringing a sense of excitement to their work and instilling the joy of learning in their students.
Brooklyn teacher Eleanor Terry, profiled in this issue of the New York Teacher, stuck to the textbook during her first year teaching Advanced Placement statistics at the HS for Telecommunication Arts and Technology, She soon realized that coming up with her own assignments would make statistics more exciting for her and her students. Now Terry’s classes conduct exit polls of voters, analyze baseball salaries and calculate the future impact of college loans.
Her students have become so comfortable with statistics that some use it in pursuing personal interests, such as analyzing their own performance records in sports.
Another math teacher, Elisabeth Jaffe, who wrote the Teacher to Teacher column below, gives class projects in which each student has some choice in the assignment.
Jaffe wants her students at Baruch College Campus HS in Manhattan to develop the same tenacity in academic work as they show in facing personal challenges.
“With a certain amount of freedom, they become more willing to work hard,” Jaffe writes. “They also discover the value of what they learn and a desire to learn more.”
Jaffe and Terry are just two among the tens of thousands of teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, therapists and other school staff who do amazing work every day in our schools.
They know what Fariña reminded us — that joy is at the heart of all teaching and learning.