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Ode to Joy

[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.



  • 1 phyllis c muray
    · Jan 17, 2014 at 10:08 pm

    Good teachers have always made a difference in the lives of their students. Case in point: Directly after the Emancipation Proclamation “the exceptionally gifted rose above the staggering obstacle of quasi-freedom,” said Martin Luther King at the UFT Spring Conference in 1964. “It is precisely because education is a road to equality and citizenship that it has been made more elusive for Negroes than many other rights. The warding off of Negroes from equal education is part of the historical design to submerge him in second class status.” And today we can see this happening as the rich-poor gap was allowed to widen in NYC, as the “tale of two cities” began to resonate in the last mayoral election. King reminded UFTers in 1964 that: “education for all Americans, white and black, has always been inadequate. The richest nation on earth has never allocated enough of its abundant resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige their work justifies.”. Many have suffered during the 12 year NYC Mayoral”Reign of Error” Hopefully, “Joy may cometh in the morning “once teachers receive the resources they need; once teachers are compensated adequately for their services; and once teachers are given a voice in the decision making that affects their lives and the lives of the students they serve.

  • 2 Phyllis C. Murray
    · Jan 18, 2014 at 9:39 am

    This is another Ode to Joy: Music at P.S.75x . http://www.americantowns.com/ny/bronx/news/the-ode-to-joy-the-sound-of-music-5803559

  • 3 Robyn Harland
    · Jan 21, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    I retired in 2009 from a job I loved, teaching the very special needs students ( SIE III ) , I could no longer pretend I was really teaching, my student had little if any academic skills, I wanted to teach them adaptive living skills, but instead I was told what to teach i.e. Egypt! That was the last straw, they would be in 24/7 care for their life time. I wanted to teach how to blow your nose, write your name, phone number, cross the street, comb your hair, brush your teeth. But no I was issued a curriculum each month which was totally academic. Now that there is a new chancellor maybe these type of kids will finally get what they really need adaptive living skills!