Monday, January 02, 2006

Answers, answers...

1. How come it always rains on days when you wash your car?

I think it's because over the work week, with everyone commuting, lots of particles build up in the atmosphere. Particulates can act as "seeds" around which clouds form. Also, pollution traps heat, and when hot air rises, clouds form. So it really is more likely to rain on weekends. And I think most people wash their cars on weekends. So, it doesn't always rain on the day you wash your car, but it may, in fact, be more likely to rain.

2. What was your first career choice?

Hmmm... in kindergarten, I thought "nurse" meant "girl doctor," so I wanted to be a nurse. In fourth grade, I began my campaign to be president in 2016. I read All the President's Men as a junior in high school, so for a while I wanted to be an investigative journalist. When I graduated from college, my plan was to become a child advocacy lawyer, but I wanted to teach for a while first to get to know the families and children that I would be likely to work with and represent. Hence, TFA. Secretly, I've wanted to be a writer/poet longer than anything else I described.

3. Suppose Ms. Frizzle became Chancellor Frizzle (not that any sane person would want the job). And suppose a centerpiece of the Frizzle agenda was to address some of the problems NYC teachers encounter most frequently. Which problem(s) would you tackle first? I.e., which ones do you think you could make progress on in the short term without suspending fiscal and political realities?

Traipsing merrily and boldly into the minefield...

First, I think I'd want to gather a lot of information. Visit schools, talk to teachers, survey teachers, talk to administrators, survey administrators, get a sense of the landscape. I would need to understand those pesky fiscal and political realities a lot better than I do now, and I'd want to feel confident in my assessment of what teachers need and want. I think there are some things that teachers want pretty much across the board, and other priorities that might be unique to a certain level (elementary, middle, high) or type of school (small schools, large high schools, etc.).

Based on what I know now, though, I'll hazard an answer. I hear a lot of complaints about the following:
  • micromanagement by administrators (bulletin boards, minute-by-minute scripts for the workshop model)
  • awful PD
  • feeling disempowered to make the choices about instruction that we feel are best for our students

I think the first one absolutely must be reigned in. I'd begin with information-gathering, again. Where is micromanagement happening? Whose idea are the bulletin board rules and the minute-by-minute scripts? I'd find the people originating and enforcing these policies and meet with them. What are their intentions? What is the problem they see and why is this the solution they chose? Are there other, better ways to address the problems? In the end, I'd want everyone to know that as far as how policies are implemented, the buck stops in the Chancellor's office. If my people came up with a policy and somewhere along the way it turned into a nightmare for teachers, as Chancellor I would take responsibility for changing that and for making sure the people responsible learned something about effective management and improved as leaders.

As for the second one, I think information is important here, too. There are some good courses out there, people presenting useful workshops, but there is so much that just stinks. I think I'd start with some surveying - asking teachers to name the best courses they've taken, the best presentations they've attended, the best presenters, asking them what they need in terms of PD, etc. Every workshop or course would end with an evaluation form that would be collected anonymously like they do in universities (I realize it's not a perfect system but it might still be an improvement). I think I'd go for a combination of school-based PD and region or city-wide PD. On a Monday afternoon (or whatever the PD configuration at the time), teachers could choose to attend a workshop in their own school or something elsewhere in their region. The workshops offered would be designed based on the needs identified by teachers in surveys and also identified by principals and other administrators as common across the board gaps. The DOE would seek out those organizations or presenters named the best by teachers and would have them do more, and would try to figure out what they are doing right and replicate it. Workshops would be in all subject areas. Some might be one-shot offerings, others part of a series of workshops. Principals would have a real but limited ability to ask all staff members to attend certain school-based sessions or to recommend to particular teachers that they attend particular workshops based on their observed weaknesses. Workshop evaluations would be used to determine which presenters would return, which would return but would need to re-tool their workshops, and which presenters would not be asked back.

The cynical part of me doubts this would make much difference. For this to work, all or nearly all teachers would have to start demanding rigor, seeking out challenges, behaving in workshops the way we ask our students to behave in our classes, taking it seriously. I have seen that only in the rarest of PD situations. It takes two to tango.

As for the third one, I don't really know but I feel that there must be a way to balance letting each teacher do whatever he or she thinks is best with research-based identification of more and less effective teaching. As with everything, choice makes a difference. Perhaps the DOE could do something like identify several programs or methods of teaching various subjects and then allow committees of teachers from each school select which to use in their schools. I'd like to see these choices representing a long-term commitment, too, because I think a source of frustration is the "new year, new administration, new program" phenomenon. What if a committee of teachers at a school investigated, say, reading programs from a DOE-approved list of choices, then selected one for the school, and then over the next five years oversaw implementation, data collection, fine-tuning, etc. After five years, the school as a whole or the committee of teachers could decide whether to stick with the same program or try something new. That would give everyone time to learn to do it well, to see, over time, if it works, to solve the small problems and "fit" the program to the school.

4. Living in the city and going to Columbia are pretty expensive. How do you manage on a teacher's salary?

I don't go to Columbia anymore, and when I did, I was very lucky to be in TFA during a two-year period when they partnered with TC and the DOE to mostly subsidize masters degrees for TFA teachers who committed to a third year in the city schools.

I don't buy expensive shoes.

I don't pay for cable.

Right now, I don't find it that difficult, but when I first moved here, I lived literally paycheck-to-paycheck. Once, my brother came to visit and I had $30 and two days before my check would clear.

It's okay because I don't have a family to support and no credit card debt. I am slowly paying off student loans and would like to be able to travel more or save towards a down payment on an apartment or house (not necessarily in the city). When I think about what I want in the future, that's when I sometimes feel poor. Also, I think the payscale gets worse the longer you stay in teaching and the more education you get. I don't want to do this for 25 years and make barely double what I started out making, and have a Ph.D. to boot.

5. When did you stop watching TV? Did you ever have a favorite TV show?

Starting my sophomore year, I lived in houses in college that did not have tv. Then I moved here and my roommates wanted cable, so I had it again for a couple of years. Then I moved into my current apartment and my former roommate and I decided not to get cable. That was three years ago.

I cheat a bit - I watched all of Sex & The City on DVD.

I liked ER a lot until around the third explosion in the ER when I decided it was getting ridiculous. I would get hooked on other shows for periods of time - Caroline in the City, for example. I once watched nearly two days straight of Junkyard Wars and that show where people build robots that fight each other... When I was younger, my whole family watched The Wonder Years in re-runs obsessively. I liked Lois & Clark for a couple of seasons.

6. What were some valuable resources you turned to when pursuing your teaching career - both online and in book form?

I'm with Chaz on this one - I can't think of one or two books that drastically improved my teaching. Some were inspiring - The Power of Their Ideas by Deborah Meier. The First Days of School by Harry & Rosemary Wong is a good one for all new teachers. I read a couple of books that helped me think about how to teach science well. Look up courses that you can't fit in your schedule but you really wish you could take, then go to the bookstore and check out the books assigned for those courses. You'll find books to help with specific issues as you go along but I'm not sure I can really recommend anything that will change your life.

7. Do you think you'll be a teacher forever?


8. When are you going to graduate to the big leagues, the high school?? More mature students, meaningful Regents to pass, college recomendations and yes a lab technician to setup your lab!

I'm not. I chose middle school. I like this age group. I feel like if I do a good job laying a foundation with them, I'll make your job so much easier. The science people gravitate towards high school, but we are needed in the lower grades, too. My own science education was so-so in middle school (some of it was plain awful) but much stronger in high school, and the areas of science that I pursued were shaped by the strengths and weaknesses of that program. Now that I'm teaching basic physical science, I am cursing my middle school science teacher who never even did a demonstration! Also, I don't feel that I have enough depth in any one field of science to want to be a specialist as most high school teachers are. Sorry.

9. Does the interweaving of education and politics help, hinder, or indifferent to the education of children?

I don't know. I think it's kind of inevitable. Education is the thing we, as a society, do to pass on our culture, laws, and priorities to the next generation. We try to solve the problems of our generation in how we educate the next generation. You're never going to separate politics and education, and anyone who tells you that doing such-and-such will take the politics out of education is pulling your leg.

10. Can the corruption in the DOE ever be eliminated?

I don't know. Depends on your beliefs about people, power, and money. I think it can be reduced, though there will probably always be someone out there looking to take advantage.

11. How come the DOE nor the Mayor ever address the discipline issues that plague all struggling schools? Do they not realize it is the main reason for failure?

It would cost a mind-boggling amount to provide truly good services or alternate school settings for the kids who cause most of these problems. Health care, intensive psychological services, possibly housing, tiny class sizes with the best, best teachers, extended day programs, school-to-work programs, family services, gang intervention... You can't, legally or ethically, just kick out the "bad kids." When you start thinking about what you would need to do for them to help them become healthy, contributing members of the community, it becomes clear that we, as a society, lack the will.

12. What is the first step to starting one's own school?

Becoming a good teacher and practicing your leadership skills in as many different settings as possible.

13. What are your next career goals? (in education or another field)

For the moment, I'm happy enough and still have plenty to learn about teaching. I toy with the idea of teaching in some completely different setting, just for a change - my friend works at a private, upper-east-side girls' school, for example, and we were talking about job openings there.... but if I stay in teaching, I'll probably stay at my current school.

I would consider positions that allow me to work with new or prospective science teachers to improve science teaching.

Being a science writer a la Jonathan Weiner or Natalie Angier would be extremely fun!

14. You never posted on the TWU contract. Do you think their membership did better than the UFT?

I'm going to angle around your question here because I honestly didn't compare one contract to the other. The consensus seems to be that the TWU won. The one question I have now is how come the UFT allows our contract to expire and months and months to go by with no new contract? The transit workers weren't willing to work even a few days without a current contract, and the more I think about it, the more I think that they are onto something. The city needs to know that a good offer better be on the table before the current contract expires; anything else is just disrespectful!


Anonymous Norm said...

On Question 14 and the No Contract no Work issue as it relates to the UFT contract and the TWU:

You will hear words coming from the UFT leadership to the effect that they would like to explore the implications of NCNW for teachers. Don't believe it. Remember this was the same group that sent hordes of union people into the schools threatening people that if they voted down the contract they would have to strike. The UFT hasn't had NCNW for over 30 years.

The UFT leadership really wants to wangle their way into some kind of arbitration situation but be able to say they weren't responsible. Expect them to use their influence with the state legislature to try to get something passed that will let them off the hook while continuing to put on a phony show of militancy with the NCNW talk.

1:22 PM  
Blogger Mrs. N said...

In response to number 8: Thank you, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart. As a high school teacher, I know that middle schools need more serious teachers that aren't looking at their jobs as a gateway for high school, but an opportunity to give honest, high-quality education.

1:32 PM  
Blogger posthipchick said...

We just purchased the entire series of Wonder Years on DVD for like $35 on ebay. It's totally handmade, but it rocks!

I love that show.

1:58 PM  
Blogger NYC Educator said...

"The city needs to know that a good offer better be on the table before the current contract expires; anything else is just disrespectful!"

You're right, of course, and Randi has been saying that teachers should be willing to strike without a contract.

Unfortunately, she's also been trying to change the Taylor Law so that 6 months after the contract expires, we'd go to PERB, the ones who gave us the last contract, in my view, the very worst I've seen in 20 years.

It would be nice to get a consistent message from our leader. I think, in the case of the TWU, there's been no question whatsoever about that.

By the way, thanks for your answer to my question. It was far better than anything I'd have come up with.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a big Sci-Fi fan I was sorry to see that Buffy didn't make your list but glad to see Sex and the City did.

For more fun, you might want to rent Nip and Tuck.

As for the TWU, didn't you find it the least bit interesting that they got more gains than givebacks?

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Among the issues Chancellor Frizzle proposed to address were many involving the well being of teachers. But not one item took the perspective of parents.

Knowing that parents and students are the true customers of elementary and secondary education is more important than anything else. Try visiting a private school as a parent. Listen to the school representatives tell you about the school's academic philosophy and pay attention when the reps tell you where the kids go after leaving the private school. Then ask yourself whether you would rather send your own child to public school or private school.

9:04 PM  
Blogger ms. frizzle said...

"Among the issues Chancellor Frizzle proposed to address were many involving the well being of teachers. But not one item took the perspective of parents."

Go back and read the question I was asked.

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chancellor Frizzle said:

"First, I think I'd want to gather a lot of information. Visit schools, talk to teachers, survey teachers, talk to administrators, survey administrators, get a sense of the landscape. I would need to understand those pesky fiscal and political realities a lot better than I do now, and I'd want to feel confident in my assessment of what teachers need and want."

You have based your approach to the issues of public school education on the concerns of teachers. This is a mistake.

What matters are the concerns of students, their parents and the taxpayers. They pay the bills and it isn't in their interest to satisfy employee demands when the public education system suffers from so many problems.

Many of the problems are the direct result of state control of education. The only way to repair those problems is to reduce the state's control. It must be recognized that the state is incapable of managing the education of the large number of students enrolled in public schools. For results to improve and to create a better working environment for teachers, the state must reduce its presence and restrict its activities to what it does well.

8:39 AM  

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