Sunday, May 6, 2007
There's a good debate going on at NYC Educator's blog about teacher certification. The issue of alternative certification programs like the Teaching Fellows and Teach for America has come up. I won't repeat the arguments made. Go on over and check it out. Many teachers coming out of traditional programs also say they were not prepared for the reality of teaching in NYC. I have generally disparaged traditional programs because I have felt on the job training was more important than coursework. But when the guinea pigs are kids....
Someone commented that you wouldn't want a pilot who wasn't certified. But pilot certification is not all about studying flying in classrooms but mostly about spending many hours in the air with an experienced pilot. I would apply the same to teaching. Pay people a decent salary to assist in classrooms and really teach, not observe for at least a year and ask them to perform before getting certified to go solo instead of that stupid video tape system that you send in after many years of teaching.
Practically, the only way to fill classrooms is with non-traditional programs given the realities of the system. In a rational system, teachers would spend a year or two as interns or assistant teachers. That is what goes in in may of the private schools in NYC.
I came into teaching through a non-traditional route -- The Intensive Teacher Training Program (ITTP) an early version of the Teaching Fellows in the mid-late 60's. I wish I had a little more of a traditional background but I'm not sure how much difference it would have made. I was part of a group of about 15 new teachers in my elementary school, PS 16 in Williamsburg. That was after the 1967 contract which increased preps and reduced class size. I learned on the job. There was a full-time teacher trainer in my school named Elaine Troll who was an immense help and I learned a lot from her. Most of my colleagues resented the hell out of her (I saw the pettiness of teachers very early) but I saw her as a lifeline to a drowning man.
Ironically, because we had extra teachers I lucked out in that I was an ATR in my school for a year and a half by subbing in a different class every day. It was hell. But I also saw how all the teachers organized their classes and began to develop techniques for control. I also had days where they assigned me to assist other teachers and I got to see them at work. Coming to teaching with little respect for "ed" majors - which elementary school training required - I developed tremendous respect for their skills. Whether these skills were due to their training or practical experience, I couldn't tell but my instinct even as a new teacher was that it was due to the latter.
Grad school draft deferments were still not being honored so I had to teach a 2nd year and I was still a sub - the administration had no confidence in me and I don't blame them. But in the middle of that 2nd year a teacher left and I asked to take over because I was bored subbing and wanted more of a challenge. A new principal (a political appointee who proved to be incompetent) had come in a month before so I sort of had a new start (one of his first incompetent acts) even though the AP - Dr. Norman Jehrenberg- did not care for me and was against my getting the class.
After the first week Dr. Jehrenberg stopped me in the hall suggested I go back to subbing. I asked for another week. If I had accepted his offer I would have probably left teaching after that year. But something clicked with the kids that 2nd week and I became a real teacher. Elaine Troll was often in my class assisting and giving positive criticism, not writing me up. Jehrenberg became a big supporter. I remember once telling him I was having trouble getting a math concept across. He showed up shortly after and did the lesson for me. When I needed a child removed he was there within 10 minutes. It got to the point that I just had to take out the paper to write the note and the kid giving me trouble behaved. That was support.
Gaining the respect of this tough, hard-bitten (much despised by some teachers, but also incredibly supportive - to teachers he respected) guy was one of the greatest achievements of my professional life. Unfortunately he transferred after the school year because he rightly felt he should have been made the principal. (I hear he went on to become a principal in Queens somewhere and I bet there are teachers out there who either loved or hated him.) Not having him around (Troll left soon after too) was instrumental in my decision to transfer at the end of my 3rd year and that turned out to be a wise choice. Following the subsequent history of the school right up to today, I can say that since the political decision around Jan. 1969 not to make Jehrenberg principal, PS 16 has still not recovered.
I learned more between Feb. and June 1969 than in any course. But there are few Norman Jehrenbergs and Elaine Trolls around today, if any.