The Community Collaborative to Improve Bronx Schools, composed of CEJ groups in the Bronx, created the Lead Teacher Program, which puts master teachers in low-performing schools to support the development of other teachers. The program begin in District 9 in the South Bronx in 2004 and has since expanded to include more than 100 schools citywide.
While we support their calls for reducing class size amongst other initiatives that support the work that teachers do, we are skeptical of the Lead Teacher program.
When I first got to PS 147 in Sept. 1970 I heard of a guy who had left the June before after 10 years of teaching. John Gali was his name and he was revered as the ultimate Lead Teacher, a master craftsman who had enormous influence on the vast number of new teachers who entered the NYC school system in the late 60's. But people said he got burnt out. I always hoped to meet him but he was killed in an automobile accident a few years later. The school created an award at graduation in his name.
From the day I started teaching, there were people everyone looked at as "Lead Teachers: and we learned from them. But they were recognized by their peers, not appointed by a principal with an agenda.
In the mid-90's I got involved in a program at Rutgers to develop leadership skills in Discrete Mathematics – Pascal's triangle, map coloring, Fibonacci, recursion – all kinds of goodies. We did the same kinds of problems adapted for elementary kids as we did in my grad level computer science courses. (Too bad I wasn't teaching math at the time - I was the computer lab teacher. That stuff was great.)
The idea was not just to learn math, but to be able to bring the concepts back to colleagues. Now, this was a Lead teacher program that made sense and we had people from all over the country from K-12. (They're still doing it and have programs going in many states.)
But the way it was implemented by the DOE (ETTS - Everything Turns To Shit) ICE took a stand against the Lead teacher program as a form of merit pay and also a divisive "we will put an overseer on you" attitude. Another diversion from doing the kinds of reforms that will make a difference. But of course, this is a core part of the UFT program. And of course, guess who first advocated the Lead Teacher program? AL SHANKER. (Leonie Haimson suggests I go to a Shanker Anonymous group for counseling over my obsession.)
The idea of putting "better"- which often means "suckups to the principal" teachers in charge of others is part of the Ed reform movement. Hey, it's all the teachers' faults so they need constant guidance as much as little children. Right along with the Ed reform ideology with not so subtle undermining of teacher unionism.
I'm sure there are some superb Lead Teachers, but also quite a few duds. Geez, when I think of the possible Lead Teachers my principal would have chosen...
An email from an activist in the UFT said:
There are only a few schools that I have personal knowledge of the lead teacher program. For those the lead teacher position is used as another supervisory level and resented by teachers. As for taking good teachers out of the classroom….I don’t think so. The lead teachers chosen were principal pets and in some cases Chapter Leaders.
While I am certain someone can point to anecdotal evidence where the lead teachers actually improved student achievement but I would still question not only the waste of money but the need to further alienate our teachers.
When will we trust the teachers?
I have no doubt that teachers would make a better choice of Lead Teachers than school administrators. If teachers made the decision, the idea would be viable. But the UFT (under Shanker OR Weingarten) would/will never fight for true teacher power. Teacher empowerment is as much a threat to union leaders as to people running school systems. The CEJ ought to consider promoting a system of teacher choice.