Newspaper logo  
 
 
Local News & Opinion

Ref. : Civic Events

Ref. : Arts & Education Events

Ref. : Public Service Notices

Travel
Books, Films, Arts & Education
Letters
Open Letters:

Ref. : Letters to the editor

Health Care & Environment

12.18 Gov. Cuomo Makes Sense on Fracking

12.18 2014 will be the hottest year on record

12.18 Obama Bars Oil And Gas Development In Alaska's Bristol Bay

12.18 Chemical company executives indicted in West Virginia spill

12.17 Murder in the Rainforest

12.17 Forbidden Topic in Health Policy Debate: Cost Effectiveness

12.16 These Ubiquitous Chemicals May Be Making Us Stupid

12.16 The Sad Fate of Planet Earth: Lima’s COP20 showed World’s Governments not Serious about fighting Climate Change [video]

12.16 Keystone XL pipeline may no longer make economic sense, experts say

12.15 Coal demand set to break 9bn tonne barrier this decade

12.15 Green Continent? Will Solar Power allow Africa to Leapfrog Expensive Grid-Building?

News Media

12.15 The media treats Dick Cheney like the royals on vacation. He should be in jail

Daily FAIR Blog
The Daily Howler

US Politics, Policy & Culture

12.18 Jeb Bush may be 'the smart brother' – but he's as much of a climate denier as any conservative

12.17 If Elizabeth Warren Says No, What Is Progressives' Backup Plan?

12.16 Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the 'Other America'

12.16 Something snapped for defeated Democrats in bruising budget battle

12.15 'What Are You Willing to Fight For?': Democrats' Depressing New Reality

12.15 Cromnibus Pension Provisions Gut Forty Years of Policy, Allow Existing Pensions to Be Slashed

Justice Matters

12.18 S.C. boy executed for 1944 murder is exonerated

12.17 Los Angeles lawyers stage die-in protest against police – video

12.16 Vulnerable in the Field: Sexual Assault Is Common Among Scientists

High Crimes?

12.18 The Depravity Of Dick Cheney

12.17 The 'Ticking Time-Bomb' Defense of Torture Is Evasive and Irrelevant

12.15 Dick Cheney insists 'rectal feeding' was for medical reasons, not torture in defence of CIA [2:56 video]

12.13 Fox Catches Dick Cheney Lying About Torture

Economics, Crony Capitalism

12.18 Joseph Stiglitz: Economics Must Address Wealth and Income Inequality

12.18 Wealth Gap between America’s Rich and Middle-Class Families Widest on Record [charts]

12.18 Coal, an Outlaw Enterprise

12.17 Russia's Problems Are Everyone's Problems

12.17 Oil Is Dragging Down Prices Faster Than Official Price Index Can Capture

12.15 Did Wall Street Need to Win the Derivatives Budget Fight to Hedge Against Oil Plunge?

12.14 Full Show: Democrats Bow Down to Wall Street [25:25 video & transcript]

12.14 Kochs Seek to Keep Funding Secret Fearing ‘Grotesque’ Campaign

International

12.18 On Cuba, Republicans Trapped By Old Think

12.18 Welcome Back, Cuba!

12.18 As Havana Celebrates Historic Shift, Economic and Political Hopes Rise

12.18 U.S. to Restore Full Relations With Cuba, Erasing a Last Trace of Cold War Hostility

12.18 Student raises thousands of pounds for homeless man who offered her money

12.18 Good Riddance to a Ridiculous Cuba Policy

12.18 Breakthrough on Cuba Highlights Pope’s Role as Diplomatic Broker

12.17 Wrecking Russia’s economy could be a disaster for the west

12.16 Cheney on Torture: Lying or Ignorant?

12.16 The Global Conflicts to Watch in 2015

12.16 Estimated 15,000 people join ‘pinstriped Nazis’ on march in Dresden [1,200 comments]

12.16 More than 120 people killed in Pakistan Taliban school siege, says official - live updates [video]

12.15 The Humane Interrogation Technique That Works Much Better Than Torture

12.15 Herzog's Moment? Can the Israeli Left Regain Power?

12.15 Senate Report Condemns Government Torture Abroad

We are a non-profit Internet-only newspaper publication founded in 1973. Your donation is essential to our survival.

You can also mail a check to:
Baltimore News Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 42581
Baltimore, MD 21284-2581
Google
This site Web
  Print view: We Can Make Every Public School Great--if We Choose To Do So
SPEAKING OUT:

We Can Make Every Public School Great—if We Choose To Do So

by Paul Wortman
The powers that be don't really want small class sizes and good facilities for all students; if they did, we would have them.

I worked as an art teacher in New York City public schools (both elementary and high school levels) for a bit over 25 years. During that entire time I worked with teachers of varying skills. There were some who were great teachers, some average, some mediocre and a tiny fraction who were awful. Some were great with discipline and, even with a large class of more than 30 students, the kids would focus, work and learn. Some of them weren't always necessarily that great with content, while other teachers knew their content well, but wern't good with discipline and worked better with smaller groups of kids.

I was never good at well-controlled discipline—my classes were what I would call "controlled chaos," busy workshops (being studio art classes). Occasionally some kid would step out of that control and cause trouble, but generally good work was done. It was extremely difficult, though, to give attention to students who wanted individual help on their projects, and I would spend the class period running around the room never getting to everyone who wanted assistance.

Handling 34 teenagers or younger (170 students per semester in high schools) is very difficult for a long career—you leave the school at the end of the day feeling wiped out. There is no one who can be what you call a “superman” for very long—I often spent 10 to 12 hours a day at the school (often with no extra pay, but just because I wanted to), and it worked for me because I'm a bachelor, but if you are a mother or father, you have another part of your life that needs attending.

Many of these so-called great 'charter programs' work because they pick their students and do not deal with the kids who have serious learning problems or horrid distractions and obstacles in their family, home and/or community lives. They also hire teachers who are expected to put in endless unpaid extra hours with students and in meetings beyond the school day. The so-called education experts like Mayor Michael Bloomberg like data, but the data do not show that charters are better at educating students than the ordinary public schools. In fact, data show that public schools are improving in areas such as mathematics, and that they generally do as well or better than the charter schools, even the best ones.

In New York City, charters like Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone and Moskowitz's Harlem Success Academies are fairly successful, but they do not have large classes; and while they are non-profit, they get huge amounts of money from corporate donors, and their leaders are paid very very well—so much so that they are in a sense 'getting the profits'.

The Harlem Children's Zone claims to deal with systemic problems in a student's home life and community, such as poverty, lack of health care, and so on. Some of its students have been kicked out (“counseled out”) when they do not meet expectations. You can't do that in a typical public school unless the student commits a crime, and even then it depends on the severity and repetition of extremely bad behaviors.

Corporate people bankroll many of these charters—showing there can be lots of money to be gained by privatizing the education system. The charters can be fine as laboratories for trying new methods of teaching, but their teachers should have the same employment situation as teachers in the regular public schools. There is no reason that they should not be allowed union representation, for example, and enjoy the health care, retirement benefits and due process that come with that representation.

In fact, the goal of school reform should be to ensure that every single school in the country deserves and gets the same funding, resources, facilities, and services for all children. All schools should be good schools in a good world. There should be no schools that get better facilities, resources and teachers just because they have wealthy donors or parents who can pay for insanely expensive tuitions.

The aim of politicians and people like Bloomberg, unfortunately, is to get rid of the teachers' unions and put out to pasture the older experienced teachers who earn more, thereby reducing expenses of public schools. Unions help to protect teachers from administrators who are unfair or incompetent. Often these administrators are former teachers who barely taught and worked hard to get out of the classroom as soon as possible. They usually are not the most highly skilled or knowledgeable teachers, as the title 'principal' or 'master 'implies.

When Bloomberg spoke "ex cathedra" of being able to fire 50% of New York City's public school teachers and have 70 students in a room, he and his ilk are trying to save money, but on the backs of both the teachers and the students. In my opinion, the politicians and corporate donors to school reform on the whole really don't care whether all the students are well educated or not; otherwise they would fight for every school to have the same quality of facilities, resources, varieties of course selections from all of the humanities, arts and sciences and class sizes that the elite private schools have for the children very wealthy.

Would they, for example, tolerate large classes for their children? Every single teacher I know will tell you small class size is on the top of their wish list for a better education system. Imagine an English or history teacher grading 34 papers or exams, every few days or weeks? Imagine the silly NYC public school art teacher (if there is still one left in the school) giving attention to 34 individuals, all at work on projects? Now imagine the qualitative difference in private or upper middle class suburban schools with 10, 15 or 20 kids per class. Upper middle class neighborhoods get schools with excellent facilities and small classes. Private schools for the wealthy get small classes and good facilities. The powers that be don't really want that for everyone; if they did, we would have them.

Teacher tenure does not prevent a school from getting rid of a bad teacher, it just provides due process, which we all deserve.

Finally, if there are so many impressive amazing superman teachers in the mill, ready to take over the classrooms of America from the old-fashioned run-of-the-mill teachers, where are they? There aren't enough of them. Most of us teachers are average to very good in most of our skill sets, and most take their job seriously. I have met teachers who should not be in the classroom, but they are the exception and they remained in the schools because some incompetent administrators didn't do their job in the first several years before the teacher received certification. The administrators just let them continue. Most burnt-out bad teachers started out that way, I believe. Teacher tenure does not prevent a school from getting rid of a bad teacher, it just provides due process, which we all deserve.

It takes years of practice to master any skill. I certainly became a better teacher over the years, and made many mistakes along the way. I've taught many lessons that I was not satisfied with in my time. The fact is, though, that my last decade, and especially the last five years or so of teaching, were my very best. New teachers have one thing going for them, lots of energy and idealism, but their skills are not those of a seasoned teacher. Over half of new teachers are gone within the first five years in the classroom (often by their own choice), so it's clear that energy and idealism do not last long.

I apologize if any of this essay was repetitious or sounded like I was whining. In all honesty, teaching was the best job I ever had. I loved working with the students, and I feel quite proud of the work I did. Those who attack teachers and their unions really aren't helping to improve schools, but instead are demoralizing the teachers who are working hard to do right by their students.


Paul Wortman describes himself as a "proud, albeit indignant, retired teacher and teachers unionist."



Copyright © 2012 The Baltimore News Network. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.

This story was published on January 13, 2012.

 


Public Service Ads: