Tuesday, May 23, 2017
The Problem In Some Of Our High Schools In New York City.
Back when I started teaching in the New York City schools, I was told by my Assistant Principal that she was there to support me and have my back. If that met running interference to protect me from over aggressive parents, complaining students, and even the Principal. She was true to her word and as I was learning how to master the art of teaching, I was secure in the knowledge that I had administrative support.
Eventually, I acquired tenure and my Assistant Principal would come in once a semester to observe me, forewarning me of her appearance and asking me which class I would like her to observe. She was highly supportive and believed a teacher should have total authority of the classroom and autonomy on how best to teach his or her students. There was no "one-size-fits-all" metric and certainly no punitive Danielson rubric that is used as a weapon against teachers. In the early days of my career, before the Bloomberg and Klein years, it was a real pleasure to be a teacher.
Fast forward to the present and we now have administrative micromanagement, a punitive Danielson rubric, tenure based upon political and not educational factors, and weakened tenure protections that force teachers to prove their innocent rather than the DOE having to prove they're guilty of incompetence. Is it any wonder that New York City teachers take anxiety drugs and some even suffer from PSTD, as they struggle through the trials and tribulations of the New York City classroom.
While some of the blame can be laid at the feet of the teacher evaluation system, jointly approved by the DOE and UFT and bad school administration that rather foster conflict rather than collaboration. The majority of the blame lies with the student body and their sense of entitlement and lack of responsibility..
In many unscreened high schools students will come to class late, unprepared without a notebook, pen or pencil, and unfocused. These students fail to submit assignments, do poorly on tests and assessments, and act up by disrupting the class. Yet, when a teacher tries to discipline these students, they are immediately attacked by school administration for potential verbal abuse or even corporal punishment. These students can curse and threaten a teacher and suffer no consequence. Moreover, many high school administrators are narrowly focused on the bogus graduation rate and demand that 80% of a teachers roster be passed or be faced with an "ineffective" rating and 3020-a termination charges. If the teacher is not tenured the pressure to pass failing students is unbearable since they can be discontinued, simply based on a Principal's recommendation.
Mayor Bill de Blasio's ill-fated approval of allowing students to have cellphones in the schools have dire educational effects as they provide a distraction to learning, especially in high poverty schools. While schools can still ban cellphones if they choose, like Lehman campus in the Bronx, few do. The result is that teachers are forced to compete with these electronic distractions and the learning process is hurt. Further, student disrespect has never been higher in many of these schools. The students soon realize that the teacher is afraid to discipline them for their misbehavior or lack of responsibility and they realize that there is no real immediate consequences to their actions. The result is a classroom in chaos and classroom management is just an illusion.
These schools suffer from high teacher turnover, unstable educational environment, and students who don't follow the civil rules of our society since they see no immediate consequences for their actions. While zero tolerance may not be the answer, the permissive culture and the restorative justice approaches is not either and until student behaviors change, these schools will remain the dumping ground for struggling students who at best, will end up in low paying, low skilled jobs and at worst in our prison system.