Saturday, June 16, 2007
The Only Teacher Left, Has Left
The departure of Andres Alonso from the DOE to head the Baltimore school system (and WOW, it seems he was chosen and will be responsible to a Board of Education instead of a dictatorial mayor) has been viewed by some as sad. After all, he actually was a teacher. Special ed in Newark. They say for a decade before he went on to bigger things. He even became the legal guardian of one of his kids. Now there's a level of intervention. He was a Harvard grad lawyer, then on to Wall St. before he tried teaching. Compared to Joel Klein who once spent about 6 months teaching before running back to law school, Alonso made a difference at the only level where one can have an impact directly on children - in the classroom. That should be enough. But people get seduced by the bigger things. "I can make a bigger difference as a principal, a superintendent, running a school system." Sorry. If you love teaching children, the classroom is the place to be. And even then the teacher's impact is not as great as people think - unless you become the legal guardian of all your kids.
People who came across Alonso found something very likable about him. I saw him at the Javits convention center back in March when he stopped by to see the FIRST robotics tournament. He came alone. No entourage. Something sad and lonely about him.
At PEP meetings or press conferences he would speak at length with an awful lot of EduBabble. Klein seemed oh, so bored and often fiddled with his Blackberry. Some NY ed scene observers (NYESO's) felt he was being used. But I wouldn't let him off the hook so easily. He accepts the "No excuses" argument- in other words, it is the teacher's fault. Hard to fathom coming from a real teacher. Like, does he really believe paying teachers bonuses for getting higher scores is a good thing for kids, teachers, schools, education? We'll measure how much of the EduCrap thrown out by BloomKlein he really believed by what he does in Baltimore. But if he follows the script, expect massive problems with the teacher union. I bet he doesn't have the stomach for those type of confrontations. He just doesn't seem as mean as the likes of BloomKlein. But maybe they'll send him to mean school for a PhD.
It was clear that with the reorganization the Deputy Supt for Teaching and Learning, or whatever they called the job, has no real function. His replacement - Marsha Lyles. Nice lady. My former boss, once removed, for a year. Hope she brings some crossword puzzles to work. They were cheering at the announcement in the offices of Region 8 and in District 16 (do they think she is taking them all with her?), one of the most incompetently run districts in the history of the NYC school system. Lyles once ran that district. But no one could have done very much. Maybe Joe Stalin, who if he were alive today, would be given serious consideration for chancellor of a large urban school system.
At the press conference where Klein introduced all the SCHMOS who will be doing what Alonso was supposed to do (and looked like they were making a hostage tape,) he was standing alone looking for some reporter to ask him something. So your intrepid Wave reporter went up to him to chat. "Come, sit down and talk. I have some time," he said. I bet he did.
For a few minutes it was 2 former teachers just chatting - until I tried to tell him what teachers really thought - like how can Tweed implement plans if just about the entire cadre of teachers - the implementers -- were so alienated. He wanted to know even though they make mistakes, if Tweed had done ANYTHING right and how come they do not get credit for what they do right. Like, did he think the NYC press corps, led by the cheerleaders from the NY Times, were against BloomKlein and for the UFT? I didn't have the heart to tell him that when the intention is evil, the result is distorted based on the view of the observer -- sort of Einstein theories applied to the world of Tweedledom.
But the conversation quickly turned into EduBabble as he talked about studies this and studies that, all showing teacher quality is the most crucial element in education., the same line Cerf and Klein and Weingarten throw out all too often. Jeez, I thought, I had an awful lot of stinkers as teachers growing up. I probably would have been an Einstein if they had more PD when I went to school. I tried to tell him that most teachers I came across were pretty good and we learned more from each other than PD. But he was no longer listening to what a teacher had to say. He taught, he left, went to Harvard and the Leadership Academy and is stuffed full of EduBabble.
Good luck Baltimore.
For an extremely favorable piece on Alonso, see the Baltimore Sun:
Alonso gets ahead by putting kids first
New schools CEO works hard on behalf of his No. 1 concern