2000-02-12 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

People are finally waking up to the fact that our school system is going to be light about 25,000 teachers in less than five years. The teachers themselves and their supervisors have known for years that it would happen sooner than later.

The daily newspapers were too busy taking potshots at the teachers and administrators to understand the problem. Perhaps they just did not care.

The city’s politicians were too busy using the system as a whipping boy to drum up votes for whatever election they were currently running in. Knocking the school system and promising money for parochial and private school education played well with the white middle class in Queens and Staten Island. That was how Giuliani won the last election. He hoped to do it again. It was important to show just how bad the city’s teachers were in order to drum up those votes and get the other pols to play along and allocate the money to charter schools and vouchers.

Principals were the problem. Get rid of principal tenure and everything would be all right.

The teacher’s union was the problem. What right did it have fighting for teachers who were given poor ratings? What right did they have fighting for an across the board raises for its teachers? What right did it have supporting "poor" teachers by running a peer intervention program?

Poor teachers were the problem. Get rid of teacher tenure and bring in merit pay and everything would be all right.

Parochial schools, on the other hand, were good. They did everything right. Charter schools were good. They did away with the nasty unions.

Ipso facto, give the money to the parochial schools and the charter schools.

Nobody does it better, the mayor believes.

The mayor is in the papers each day, beating the drum for upstate and white middle class votes by trashing teachers. The new chancellor says that teachers have to earn more money, but only if they work two hours more each day.

"I never heard of a job where you leave at 3:00 and have two and a half months of summer vacation," Levy said.

Where has he been?

He thinks that money alone keep experienced teachers in the system and draw new candidates to fill those 25,000 empty slots.

He is dead wrong.

It is not salary alone that keeps teachers from the classroom.

It is the constant trash talk by those who denigrate the job and the people who do it.

It is the mayor, who invites kids and parents to attack teachers. After all, if they are as bad as the mayor says they are, why don’t they deserve a beating?

It is the central board that pumps more and more clerical work into classrooms, forcing teachers and administrators to spend their time completing forms and checklists rather than working with kids.

Most of all, it is the lack of discipline on the part of students and the inability of the system to address that inappropriate behavior that drives people from the classroom and keeps them from entering in the first place.

Some examples:

A special ed student punches a teacher in the arm because the teacher does not want him to leave the room and run the halls. Since he has been suspended twice before for assaulting staff and students, the Special Ed division refuses to allow him to be suspended again.

A week later, the same student pushes a substitute teachers, knocking her down. Again, the suspension is refused. "Did he use a weapon," the person calling in the incident is asked. When the answer is "no," the suspension is refused.

Two days later the student is running wild in the student cafeteria. When he is stopped, he tells the teacher who stops him that "there is nothing you can do to me and I know it." Unfortunately, he is right.

Why should a person want to teach in a system where there can be no sanctions against a child such as the one above?

Any dean will tell you that there are a small percentage of disruptive kids in each building. Perhaps five percent of the kids cause 90 percent of the disruptions.

The fact that the system cannot deal with those kids tells you more about those who run the system than it does about the system’s teachers and administrators.

I wonder if Levy, who never saw that job like the ones the teachers have, would allow somebody to run around Citibank, assaulting people on a regular basis, without some sort of sanction? I think not.

The Advocates for Children is one of the organizations that forced the politically correct board of education to end punishment for all but weapon use. Now, that group is trying to end the move to do away with social promotion. Last summer, the group threatened the board with a lawsuit if it kept special ed kids back and the board backed down without a whimper. The board will probably cave again.

The Advocates For Children want standards, but they want to insure that nobody ever fails no matter what.

That group and others like it are the one who have destroyed a once great system. Not the teachers, not the principals, not the unions, but the do-gooders who believe that there is no such thing as a bad kid and that all kids deserve to be passed along no matter what they do.

At the same time that teachers spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with that small percentage of unmanageable students, they must also deal with the growing pile of paperwork that faces them each day.

Despite the fact that the union and the board agreed in the last contract to study the reduction of paperwork, that make-work has actually grown.

The latest is the Individual Education Plan for each student who fails a subject.

That new IEP (Special education students each have a nine-page IEP that must be hand-written by their teachers) must be written by the subject teacher for each student who he or she has failed. A teacher with five classes teaches about 150 kids each week. If that teacher fails a quarter of the students that means he or she now has 38 Individual Education Plans to write each quarter. That is a lot of work for very little return.

If those who run the system really want to increase the number of candidates applying for city jobs, they have to do a number of fairly simple things:

Increase the salary to meet the salaries in neighboring districts; address the problem of disruptive students by setting up alternative settings outside the district schools; stop bashing the profession and the teachers who make it work and reduce the paperwork so that the teachers can spend more time with kids and less addressing paper.

Then, things might change, they just might.


Return to top

Email Us
Contact Us

Copyright 1999 - 2016 Wave Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved

Neighborhoods | History



Check Out News Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Riding the Wave with Mark Healey on BlogTalkRadio