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Last week on December 1, the New York Times wrote an editorial offering Mayor Bill De Blasio advice on how to deal with negotiating a new contract with the UFT, which it stated is, “in a particularly sour mood.” The editorial went on to speak about the need to “keep the most talented teachers.”
It’s a dangerous word, ‘talented’, and it implies that teaching is something that is innate, as opposed to being a profession, one in which the professional (the teacher) develops his or her skills over time. The editorial said, “He will need to press the union to loosen work rules that stifle innovation and favor senior teachers over younger ones who may in fact be more talented.”
Here at the Brooklyn New School, we see senior and newer teachers working together. The ‘talent’ becomes greater when the senior teacher exhibits his wisdom while the newer teacher shares the latest research, which perhaps she has learned in graduate school. The collaboration makes both the senior and the beginner ‘effective’ professionals. That’s another word that is being used too much these days: effective.
The editorial continues, “The scales should be rebalanced so that teachers who are judged highly effective under the new evaluation system can move up quickly in the pay scale.” How simplistic to assume that such a judgement has meaning and can help us (the public) know who the good teachers are.
Sometimes it seems that the folks who write these editorials have no memory. They have forgotten what it is like to be a five year old or a ten year old in school. They have forgotten what the process of learning looks and feels like, and they have forgotten about their own moments of discoveries as children. All of that learning was the result of a lot more than some teacher who is judged highly effective by some rubric that no one quite understands.
Some of us had the opportunity to hear from a few public school teachers last week. This was at the Testing Forum: Teachers Talk Testing, hosted by PS 321 on Tuesday, December 3. The teachers, who were from PS 321, PS 24 and PS 15, spoke eloquently about how the emphasis on standardized testing had negatively impacted their practice. Sara Greenfield, a third grade teacher at PS 321 said, "At this point it's a luxury for most New York City teachers to choose to take their classes to a dance performance, instead of read about a dancer and answer multiple choice questions about that dancer." Julie Cavanagh, a special education teacher at P.S. 15 Patrick F. Daly in Red Hook, added, "I find myself subjecting these kids that I love to this thing that's not good for them, doesn't benefit them, doesn't give me the information that I need -- which is supposed to be the purpose of assessments. It is the definition of insanity."
These teachers were certainly effective speakers, leading me to believe that they are probably also pretty good in the classroom. Their passionate talk swayed many a parent in the audience. As a group, they were effective because of their joint effort to speak out against testing.
That’s what makes people effective and perhaps also, talented. It takes collaboration and group effort. It takes hard work and passion. It takes dedication and stick-to-it-ness. The teachers who spoke at PS 321 demonstrated all of that and more. The teachers who work together here at BNS exhibit a similar determination. And throughout New York City, there are thousands of teachers, all of whom work diligently to do what is right by kids. This is what we need to remember as we worry about teacher contracts, teacher talent, and teacher effectiveness.
All for now,