Friday, June 14, 2019

School Scope: Experience Counts

For print The WAVE, June 14, 2019


School Scope:  Experience Counts
By Norm Scott

I’ve been watching D-Day movies and finally saw Saving Private Ryan. In pretty much all war movies we see the big differences between grizzled war veterans and the rookies who are often scared to death. It is so clear how important experience is in warfare. I mean what commander wouldn’t want troops who knew the ropes?

In education we often find just the opposite where newbies are preferred. Low salaries. Non-tenured. They won’t talk back and will often do anything asked by administrators, no matter how stupid. And wise in education combat zones like those grizzled sergeants. Too many principals love newbies who they can manipulate.

Over the past few decades the idea that experience makes a difference for a teacher has been disparaged by the ed deformers. Note the growth of Teach for America and the Teaching Fellows where you get 6 weeks of boot camp and are sent into the world to make guinea pigs of students while you learn the ropes.

I was one of those. In 1967 grad students were losing their deferments and going into a 6 week boot camp for new teachers and teaching for two years was a way out and I took it and became a newbie teacher. You know those war movies where the guy is sweating and wracked with fear – Corporal Upham in Private Ryan is the prototype – a coward afraid of combat. I was Upham my first year of teaching. Facing a class of children and keeping them under control was my greatest fear. They were often off the wall. I was envious of these little ladies in my school who had perfect control. When I finally learned how to control a class it was one of the major achievements of my life. I never would have survived as a teacher if I couldn’t. Well, I could have become an administrator.

My friend Arthur Goldstein, who is an ESL teacher and the union leader at Francis Lewis HS, one of the largest and most overcrowded in the city, for the past 15 years has written a very influential education oriented blog called NYC Educator sharing a lot of insights into the many facets of the process and often mystery of teaching.

I wanted to share an excerpt from his posting on June 12 about the coming end of the school year. Arthur has given his finals but still has to keep the students interested. He gives them a surprise test with questions such as: When was the War of 1812? Where does Chinese food come from? What color is the white board? He wondered about a student who got one of these wrong.

Arthur has many decades of teaching and here he gets to some of the essence of why experience matters for teachers

“One of the things Cuomo didn't consider when pushing the miserable evaluation law is what it's like to bomb in front of 34 teenagers. This, of course, is because he's never taught, and he's never been through what we go through each and every day. I don't know about you, but I fear that more than I fear some supervisor with an iPad. I remember it happening to me in my first few years. I remember watching other teachers and wondering exactly what they were doing that I was not. Why are their classes calm while mine is off the wall? I'm not sure there's an easy response to that. I'd say things got just a little better when I started calling houses. And maybe I've grown more confident or authoritative over the years. Mostly, I have more experience and more go-to lesson plans. If I see something not working I can usually push it in another direction and try something at least different, if not always better.”

That’s it. Arthur has the experience to see what is not working and has the confidence he can figure things out. Like the great pitcher whose slider is not working but adjusts. Not to compare teaching to baseball. Or combat. Welllll, maybe. One of my old pals and colleagues, Rockaway resident David Bentley used to tell the story of his first year in a tough school in 1967-68 when a class of children was so out of control he walked into the office of the principal, a tough old bird named Sophie Beller (Lagosi was her nickname) and told her he was quitting and would rather go to Vietnam. She sent him home for the day to recover and he ended up becoming one of the great teachers in my school. Ahhhh, that good ole experience does count.

Norm’s brain engages in combat with his few readers at his blog, ednotesonline.com.
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