Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Rich and Rewarding Life

Here are some class photos of my long career as a proud teacher.
Jon Hamm, in Parade magazine: “I got into acting because my teachers kept nudging me into it,” says Hamm, who taught school himself for a few years after graduating from the University of Missouri with an English degree. “The power a teacher has to influence someone is so great. I can’t think of a profession I have more respect for.”
Parade magazine

I was a teacher in NYC for almost 35 years. I have close to 35 class pictures to help reflect on my long career. I had read in the UFT paper, "The New York Teacher," about the long career of Regina Sayres, who is now 100 years old. She was a teacher at PS 41M in 1968 during the time of that long teachers' strike. I was a teacher at PS 41M during that time when
Ms. Sayres was there, and at a place when she was perhaps ending her career... mine was just beginning.
I looked through all the class photos in my collection, and I selected many for inclusion in this blog. They represent the four schools in which I taught... and the memories come flooding back. (please click on each photo to enlarge)

The year was 1973, and I was teaching grade 6 in a public school in the theater district of Manhattan. I entered my class in an essay contest sponsored by Bella Abzug and one of my students won. She went to Washington, DC to read her essay. I found this photo: Charity goes to Washington. And I also found the (now very wrinkled and faded) letter I received informing us that she won. That was over 35 years ago. It seems like so long ago. I guess it was.

This was my fourth grade class at PS 33 in 1986. The next year, when they were in the fifth grade, these students were chosen by Eugene M. Lang for his "I Have a Dream" college scholarship program. Over twenty years later... I am wondering: "Where are they now?"

And most bittersweet:

The year was 1974. I was teaching at a small school on West 45th Street. I had a wonderful 6th grade class. The students were bright, creative, and they had a real sense of humor. The school was on the same block as the Actor's Studio, the Manhattan Plaza had just been completed, and on nice days I could walk home. I loved going to work.
One day, a student named Christopher came to school a little bit late. I asked him the reason for his tardiness, and he told me that the night before he had attended an opening of a movie in which his father had a role. I asked him the name of the film, and he replied, "Godfather 2." "Oh," I said. I asked, "What part did your father have in the movie?" He replied, "Frankie Five Angels." I did know that Christopher's father was the playwright who had written "Hatful of Rain." But, I did not know that he was in the film, "Godfather II." So! Christopher's father was "Frankie Pentangeli;" interesting... Godfather II, was released and it opened at a Loew's theater on Broadway. It received phenomenal reviews and I couldn't wait to see it.
Soon thereafter were parent-teacher conferences. I am lucky Christopher was an excellent student. I do not think I would have had a comfort level sitting across from that father and giving a bad report. Mr. Gazzo had written a note to me during that school year asking permission for his son to be excused early on an October day and I saved the note. It was not just a signed note, it was an autograph.
A few months later, the Gazzo family moved to Los Angeles. Christopher kept in touch with all of us through letters he sent to the school addressed to me. In one letter, Christopher asked me if I was still singing because I was awful. I was a teacher who sang while she taught? He said he was going to a school 20 times better but he would rather be going to our school because he missed all of us.
I think about all of the students I had in so many classes over the years. Eddie, who died of a drug overdose. David, who fell off the roof of his building one hot summer day when he was up there with his brothers playing ball. Debbie, who was crossing 9th Avenue and was hit by a car. Brenda, whose mother we saved.
Larry David was asked why he still works. He clearly does not need to work. He said his mother had told him many years ago that we all need to always wake up in the morning and have a place to go. I had a place to go.

Didn't Mr. E's secretary leave out the 's' in comprehension in #4? He should have proofread that letter!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

my finest hour

The math lesson was "not satisfactory?" Excuse me? Here are some samples of the test based on the material taught in that math lesson, and almost the entire class received 100% on this test.

Standardized testing throughout history was always a measure of students' achievement and progress in the subject matter. Tests were never used as a tool to determine the effectiveness of a teacher for some obtuse "accountability." There are many factors that are part of how well a student does in school. If a student pays attention in class, does his homework, and studies the material... he will probably perform well on a test.
When I was in school, I always did poorly on language tests because the subject matter was difficult and hard for me to understand and learn. On a language mid-term, I received a 41 on the test. The student next to me scored a 96. It would seem that if tests are any measure of teachers' competence, all students in a class should perform relatively the same on tests. They don't.
Let's make it a bit clearer. At NYU Law School, if all law students do not pass the Bar exam does anybody believe that the professors at the university should be held "accountable?" Why do some students "flunk out" of med school? Are the teachers responsible for their failures? I never heard of the professors discussed as part of the equation when students drop-out of college.
In any class there will be some students who ace tests and do well and some who just cannot cut it and choke on tests. Some pass, some don't... and that's how it goes in school. "Merit pay" is an absurd idea because there are too many variables that filter in to what a student learns and how well he does in school.
There is a learning model in place in the NYC elementary schools that teachers are mandated to follow. There are many educational components that have been designed to achieve excellent results. With this scripted "Stepford teacher" approach, test results should be almost consistent across the board. They are not. So the denouement kills the philosophy. "Accountability" is absurd in an environment where teachers are not permitted to craft what they believe might be more excellent lessons.
In what became the last month of my teaching career, I was rated "U" for a "teacher-directed" math lesson. I was told I could not teach "math applications." The students were directed to sit in groups to discuss strategies for solving math word problems. I was named the "facilitator." And as "facilitator," I was a witness to the end of good education and I was helpless. I retired before I could be stuck in a straight-jacket and carted off by the DOE's Ministry of the Interior. I thwarted the administration's attempt to possibly have me "rubber-roomed" for failure to have morphed into a lemming. After I retired, I completed my "grievance" for the lesson that was rated "unsatisfactory" and I had that "U" over-turned and removed from my file. I produced the class test based on the material I taught during that "U" rated lesson. And almost all the students received 100% on that test. The principal was not able to substantiate her "U." But, I was able to show that the "U" was applied for a transparent insidious and hidden agenda. Many principals misuse their power and evaluate satisfactory lessons unfairly as a way to punish teachers with whom they do not get along or who are not obedient followers or even teachers who speak out against the administration. I won my case!
My case is just one example of hundreds. I had my excellent documentation to prove this goes on. And the principal who rated me "U" is still at that school doing her thing. The teachers drink her special blend of Kool-Aid and time marches on.

(please enlarge the above principal's evaluation letter and the test samples posted)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Today, I won a "Blog of the Day Award!" Thank-you, Bill Austin and BOTDA!

Blog Awards Winner