2009-11-27 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Education 'Experts' In Media And Universities Provide A Good Belly-Laugh
Commentary By Howard Schwach

When I started writing and teaching, I realized that those were the only two jobs that everybody thought they knew better than the professionals.

I often heard "I'm a parent and I know much better what my kid needs educationally than the teachers do," and "Anybody can write. Everybody went to school and it's just putting sentences together."

Well, I found out that they were not right. The truth of the matter is that professionals, people who are paid to do the job, generally know better than the layperson how to do it.

That's why I get such a belly-laugh when I read the editorials in the New York Times and Daily News that pontificate on teachers' contracts and how to really make school better.

They buy the boloney coming out of the Department of Education and from the mouth of the mayor and they editorialize on just how much better the world would be if the mayor got his way and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the teacher's union, would just do what is right.

They have no idea what they are talking about, but they sure say it well.

Unfortunately, the same is true of many of the professors who educate teachers.

The fact that a person has a Ph.D. in Education from Ohio State University or the University of Texas, to name just two of the top offenders, does not guarantee that the person knows anything about teaching on the mean streets of New York City. In fact, it probably guarantees that they do not.

A little story will be instructive.

When I was teaching here in Rockaway, I spent much of my after-school time as the editor for the Board of Education's Special Education Curriculum Development Unit.

As such, I was sometimes the liaison between the SED and the New York State Department of Education, and I spent lots of hours at their offices in the World Trade Center discussing the upcoming Ed Services Document that was about to be promulgated to ensure that special education placement was in the least restrictive environment, as the new federal law, PL 94-142, mandated.

We were talking about Individual Education Plans (IEPs), about which I knew something because I had just written the first citywide IEP Manual.

One thing I did know was that in New York City the IEPs were written, checked by a supervisor and thrown in a drawer, never to see the light of day again until the next annual IEP review.

They were nothing but a paperwork drain.

Teachers knew what their students needed, and they provided it.

The talk was of the clinicians (psychologists, ed evaluators, etc.) writing content area IEPs.

I said that it wouldn't work because the clinicians had no idea what the teacher was planning to teach and the particular methods that teacher used.

One of the Ohio State Ph.D.s who worked for the state asked, "How will the teacher know what to teach if we don't provide that information to them."

That from a man who hadn't been in a classroom since his graduation.

After I stopped laughing, I told him that the teachers were highly-trained professionals and knew far more about what their students needed than somebody sitting in an office at the World Trade Center.

I was not too popular at those meetings.

That is also the problem with the great majority of education professors who teach during the day. The professors who teach the evening courses are people already in the field, and are generally better, because they are drawn from the city's supervisor ranks.

The New York Times recently published a story entitled, "Teacher Training Termed Mediocre."

The paper is right, and the reason that the education of teachers is mediocre is that the college professors who teach ed courses do not have the slightest idea what they are talking about and because everything is theoretical.

It does not help a teacher in a New York City classroom to understand the history of education or the hierarchy of learning styles.

That is like teaching a plumber the history of pipes from Ancient Rome to today and pointing out how pipes have changed without ever teaching the would-be plumber how to actually change the pipes.

Teachers need to know how to handle discipline problems, they have to know their content area backwards and forwards. They need support during a long internship.

They do not need to sit in a college classroom and learn about Emanuel Kant.

They need practical training for the students they are going to meet in their classroom when they walk in the door.

I did the traditional teacher education bit at C. W. Post College back in the early 1960s. I did my student training at South Woods Junior High School in Syosset, then one of the toniest communities on the North Shore.

Then, I went into the Navy for a few years.

I got out of the Navy in January and went to work as a permanent sub at JHS 198 in Arverne. I replaced a man who had been fired at the beginning of the second term and I got his program, which had one gifted class and three that were, by all measures, made up of "at-risk kids."

Nothing I learned in college or in my teacher training prepared me for the experience and it took me two or three years to become a decent teacher.

Today, new teachers do not have that luxury.

Next week: The dreaded Board of Examiners, I wish we had them today.

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