Mixed Signals for Teachers

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, discusses the messages to educators in both the State of the Union address and Mayor Bloomberg's State of the City.


Michael Mulgrew

Comments [43]

Pablo from Bronx

To Mr. Bad - I do have a Masters degree in math, along with one in computer science, as well. I have a deep knowledge and respect for mathematics and a very deep desire to share my enthusiasm for the subject with my high school students. When I look around me, at my fellow teachers, I see a very committed, passionate and dedicated group of people that I have a great deal of respect for, more so than the people that I worked with in the business world of high finance, technology, health and other so-called "respectable" industries for twenty five years. The field of teaching is more demanding than anyone who hasn't stepped in our shoes can possibly imagine. The goals of our administration are not in the best interests of our students, hence students who are on a third grade level or lower have been pushed through the system and our now expected to be taught 9th and 10th grade mathematics, with no foundation beneath them. Mr. Bad - stand in our shoes. Experience the real world of teaching. Then let us hear you talk.

Feb. 06 2011 01:25 PM
Ellen Zakin from New york

Well first of all i would like to say that i have been teaching in nyc for 17 yrs in general ed and now special ed. First in elementary school and now in a junior high. First we need to stop pointing fingers at teachers and look at the administrators that are leading the schools. In special ed i teach children who are 15 yrs old and are still on the 2nd grade level in math and reading but we are told that because they are taking the same test like everyone else i must teach them 8th grade math. They can hardly add and subtract. If i was aloud to use my training and do what i think is best maybe these children with disabilities would have a chance. They will be promoted to high school and they can hardly read. Lets address the principals who will not spend money on these children so i am very limited on supplies.Lets address the principlals who will not hire a special ed teacher for 9 months because its cheaper to get a substitute who is not qualified. Lets address the principals who will not hire a ICT teacher because she claims she cant find a special ed teacher. Come on really? She cant find a special ed teacher today?So now those children are not being serviced. Oh by the way parents have no clue. LOL Lets address the principal who gets away with putting an uncertified teacher in a kindergarten class and says she cant find a teacher. Really? With all the excessed teachers sitting in schools as subs collecting salaries. Lets address the principal who hires a sub to teach art when an art teacher was excessed and is now in a school doing sub work. Lets address the principals who will not allow there severely handicapped classes who have cerebral palsey and down syndrome to go on trips to the supermarket, department store or to a restaurant or even to visit santa for christmas which is all life skills which is what they need but instead they need to learn about life cycle of a plant because they need academics instead. Are you serious? Lets give children what they really need and eliminate some controll principals have. Lets get principals who have more that 2 yrs teaching experience to lead our schools. Stop blaming teachers.When its required to go and get all of these credentials pay them correctly. Hope you get my point!!!!!!

Jan. 27 2011 03:02 PM
Lola from Queens

Let's stop blaming teachers for an institution they had no input in creating. There are many factors that contribute to a teacher's success or failure. I became a terrific teacher when I found a terrific principal. I was originally assigned by the NYC Teaching Fellows to a horrible principal in Brooklyn who knew how to scream, rant, rave (usually over the PA system during instructional time), threaten and intimidate her staff but knew nothing about professional development or best practices. On my first day as an educator I was assigned to teach a class with no curriculum, no supplies, no data, no textbooks or materials and no staff developer. She has no vision or philosophy, a high turnover rate and was unprofessional on every level (and the UFT knows all about her but has never done a thing about it). My new principal has a vision associated with outcomes. We plan, collect and analyze data, review our methods, change and adapt. We have relevant professional development sessions twice a month as well as very low staff turnover, an A rating and very high test scores. The other school earned a C rating and has very low scores. Is this all a teacher's fault?

Jan. 27 2011 02:44 PM
Michael Scherer from Brooklyn

I have asked my students what teachers are most effective the older or the younger teachers? Most of them said the older ones were. If the mayor gets his will find older higher paid teachers are laid off by their principals for budget purposes.

On a completely different point: Putting teachers against teachers younger v. older is new but older teachers have traditionally had no problem selling out younger ones by voting for contracts with givebacks as they retire. If it weren't for givebacks of the past contracts we probably not be in this situation that we are in. Greed is a terrible force that plagues all of American bureaucracy.

Jan. 27 2011 02:14 PM
Mike from Manhattan

Mr. Bad,
I agree with what we need, but you have to realize that the school system as it is now structured does not allow for professional teachers. By definition a professional has some control over their professional practice in return for the responsibilities for the quality of their practice. The true professions (doctors, lawyers, etc.) have the power through their state and/or regional professional groups to determine the educational and practical experience requirements for entry into the profession and the standards for good practice. Professional groups of physicians and (in the past at least) lawyers also influence the number of people who are licensed in their area to prevent over supply that would drive down salaries...although this is usually couched in terms of preventing a lowering of standards. The state governments have never granted such professional status--and powers--to teachers. The state and local governments have determined that it is in their best interest to ensure an oversupply of teachers. In fact, the teaching occupation is organized like an industrial work place and in response, the teachers have developed industrial-style unions. Like all unions, they are only allowed by law to negotiate wages and working conditions. The questions of the quality of education, including but not limited to what it taught, are reserved for the state and local governments

Jan. 27 2011 12:12 PM
Karen from Westchester

I listen to the callers and read these comments and I can't help but think we are each defending our position (private vs public compensation systems) and not listening to the other, not asking how we could change. Instead we have all the reasons why we can't. For example, if you dig into different implementations or merrit pay, you may find a rubic that addresses teacher concerns and reflects the profession or craft of a teacher. Has any one tried? Or the comment on mentoring. Some of the best mentors I have met along my way have been professionals that have retired and come back as consultants. The financial equation closes rather nicely. They retire, teach younger, less experienced labor who have smaller salaries. Not one for one but a few and the savings of the higher salary loss is less due to a few coming back to "mentor". The point is a new position is created and solution found. You reduce labor costs, you keep experience in house and other points of view and you gain a mentoring program. Instead we tell each other why things can't change. All jobs are challenging and are 24 hours 7 days a week if you let them and we all have reasons why we select a profession. Let's move beyond that and find solutions to some of these problems vs defending our positions.

Jan. 27 2011 12:07 PM

Mike, if the union gets their way, I won't be teaching when I'm 55, nevermind when I'm 30. Be careful what you wish for.

Jan. 27 2011 12:00 PM
Sari Alburtus from Jackson, NJ

Merit pay for teachers makes about as much sense as merit pay for doctors - are oncologists less effective because more of their patients die?? When is the real world going to understand that children aren't widgets - we don't send back the hard-to-teach ones. Schools are wonderful, transformational places, but we can't cure all the evils of our society.
And, yes, I am a teacher - of 22 yrs. - who teaches language arts to kids who feel like failures and hate school - and who love coming to my class b/c they know I love them and will do anything to help - and who also still struggle with test scores....

Jan. 27 2011 12:00 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

I am so sick of teachers and their advocates endles guilt tripping, you don't get a pass because you work with children and take half the year off - lots of other people work with children and don't get even 1/2 the pay or benefits and with longer hours to show for it. The Degree in Education is perhaps the least useful, least academically rigorous and certainly the easiest to get in any university environment, next to basket weaving. We do NOT need any more dumb, wide eyed "helpers" who just "want to do good" - these losers naturally tend to the teaching profession because they have few other options and generall enjoy the limited authority teaching gives themand ALWAYS have an eye on tenure, which will allow them to slack into their retirement years - the only true "goal" these losers started out with. What we need are PROFESIONALS with degrees in the fields that they will teach in, Mathematics teachers with Mathematics degress, Science teacher with degrees in a physical science, etc. Everything else will take care if itsef, half the problem with our teachers today is that they are truly not intelligent enough to do much more than teach the text, anything more is beyond their ken and they have zero passion for the sugject and hence nothing to transmit to their students, personally or professionally. They are boring their students to death - most kids want to learn, it's hard to NOT learn something when it's taught properly and not by someone only educated in the pro forma rules of education and utterly incabable of achievment themselves. The kids know this and don't respect teachers who are on some kind of power trip or just bumping along until summer break - which is quite a few of them.

Jan. 27 2011 11:55 AM
Mike from Manhattan

Taylor, grow up! At this point the teachers (and I am not a teacher) don't need an eloquent spokesperson. They need a down and dirty politician who can fight for them. I don't know if Mulgrew is right for the job, but at least he sounds like he is willing to go to the mat for teachers and children in the public schools.

Jan. 27 2011 11:54 AM
elise from brooklyn

Two items: 1)Teacher education programs/degrees need to be more competitive, as it is for doctors and lawyers, and then the teachers/educators need to be compensated more in their salaries and by our society! 2)Some people go into teaching because they want to work with children and youth and then realize teaching in the classroom is not really what they want. We need to recognize the benefits to our children and to our educational system of alternative professions/degrees/programs, such as the Children's Studies at Brooklyn College, which offers professional alternatives for people who want to work with children and youth.

Jan. 27 2011 11:53 AM
a teacher from Brooklyn

One trouble with the big focus on test scores and tying it to merit pay is that students become numbers. Right now we use the 1-4 scale. This means that principals (who receive merit pay) have their teachers target students who are "high ones, twos and threes" for extra instruction. Creating jumps in test scores is as strategic as a marketing campaign. The work becomes unethical. The more pressure there is on teachers to simply obtain high test scores, the less honest their work will become. This will happen with the best intentioned of teachers never mind those who are younger, more susceptible to external pressures, etc. If the city is interested, we can foster the development of excellent teachers and great student learning. I look forward to being part of that process.

Jan. 27 2011 11:52 AM
Katie from huntington, NY

Good point, hjs11211, but it's "affect" not "effect."

Jan. 27 2011 11:51 AM
Theresa from Brooklyn

The anti-tenure drive is a disingeuous, but well-played ploy to incite resentment of teachers in order to maintain a young, docile, low-paid workforce. A fresh young Ivy-League face is not necessarily, not probably a good teacher. It can take years to become a truly accomplished teacher. And now, the most experienced teachers are constrained by minute-by-minute formulae and commercial curricula (I wish you would discuss the systematic dismantling of public education from all directions by big business, and right-wing thinktanks)

Jan. 27 2011 11:50 AM
Taylor from Manhattan

From UFT President Mr. Mulgrew moments ago:
"Each teacher receives a curriculum of which they base their lesson plans off."

Jan. 27 2011 11:49 AM
Mike from Manhattan

DAVE, when you are 55 year old teacher who does a great job and have had some seniority raises and maybe some merit raises, but are fired so the school can put in 1.8 teachers who are fresh out of college for your salary, I think you will feel differently about tenure.

Jan. 27 2011 11:49 AM

My son had many experienced teachers that were the best I've ever seen -- and they did mentor one new excellent teachers. I can neither see why one would get rid of those excellent seasoned teachers that had developed brilliantly integrated lesson plans that took many years if not decades to develop. Similarly I cannot see why any young person would want to join a profession that has become so vilified. I taught in Peace Corps and thought about becoming a science and/or math teacher when my son was young. The antiteacher rhetoric put me off. At the same time my cousin decided she would become a teacher. I chose to become a lactation consultant instead. Guess which of us is happier with our choice?

Jan. 27 2011 11:49 AM

A few years back the NYPD cut the starting salary for cops. The drop in the quality of new applicants spoke for itself. The salary was quickly raised.

Jan. 27 2011 11:47 AM

I know someone who was a strong teacher. He left for law school because he was in a class with weapons every day. Who wants to be in danger everyday while being disrespected all around?

Jan. 27 2011 11:46 AM
Mike from Manhattan

Tenure is absolutely necessary in the current situation.The president was wrong about who influences children. The first and most important influence is the child's peer group, the second is the parents and the far distant third is the teacher. I would never advise someone, and in fact have advised my daughter NOT to get a teaching certificate. This is a terrible time to be a teacher. Teachers are bearing the blame for a sick society and a political system that has not been willing to pay for what it wants.

Jan. 27 2011 11:46 AM

Incentives may be fine for many professions, however, how do we determine which teacher is responsible for a student's success when high school teachers have as many as 6 teachers a semester and which teacher over the years is responsible for this success.

The problem with the incentive idea in education is that each student has many teachers in a year and school career. So who is responsible? It's a team effort.

I know those teachers who had an effect on me and my success wasn't necessarily seen that year, but years later.

What I learned in my first year of teaching three decades ago was the power of the students. My first principal spoke to me about my teaching. I asked him how he knew this? He told me that he spoke to my students. Since they are in the classroom everyday, their opinions are far better than anyone who visits once or no more than three times a semester.

Jan. 27 2011 11:46 AM
Katie from Huntington, NY

All this talk about firing teachers--those who will mold the future of our children. Why not mentor teachers who are considered "bad" teachers. Cognitive coaching as a tool. No one ever covers this.

Jan. 27 2011 11:45 AM
Ana from NJ

If indeed you want to attract good teachers to the system, Who is going to want to apply to a job where you could be the first one to go if needed and/or if you do get to be tenured and get too expensive you can also be let go no matter how good of a teacher you are in either case? WOULD YOU APPLY TO THAT JOB?
That is assuming that your principal is a reasonable and objective person and does not the usual Administrator game of politics and who do they like or not?
Any teacher knows that principals play favorites.

Jan. 27 2011 11:44 AM
Catherine from Manhattan

I am a public school parent, committed to keeping my kids in public school. Last year we almost lost an exceptional teacher to the cuts because the union held it's position on seniority. Doesn't the Union represent young teachers too??? Ironic to ask for the millionaire's tax to be extended to pay for the public schools. Millionaire's in NYC are not sending their children to public school because of the headaches you have to put up with: spotty teaching, mostly very young teachers with little experience in managing a classroom, unresponsive principals, teachers who won't take e-mails because it creates too much work for them. The union needs to find a way to work with the Mayor to make these classrooms better and let teachers get down to the business of educating our kids. It's not easy, but it's not that complicated.

Jan. 27 2011 11:44 AM
John from office

This segment is full of edu-speak, fostered by the idea of a Union. They worry about their "Craft" and being respected, not if the kids are learning.

Jan. 27 2011 11:43 AM
Dr. Kathleen Kesson from Brooklyn

Three comments (re: education) about Obama's speech:

1) He claims the biggest success in education is due to the man or woman in front of the class – according to research family income is the biggest predictor of academic achievement, suggesting that the elimination of poverty may be the best approach to solving the achievement gap.

2) The use of Sputnik was an unfortunate metaphor to anyone who knows their educational history - that event launched the National Defense Education Act, which among other things, took power over curriculum and instruction away from professional educators and put it in the hands of disciplinary specialists, who knew little about how children learn or how to teach subject matter.

3) Is the emphasis on being # 1 through competition really the most important virtue to teach our children in an increasingly interdependent world? Isn’t cooperation a more important virtue?

Jan. 27 2011 11:42 AM

Unlike other jobs, teachers take their jobs home and could literally work morning to night and have more to do.

With that in mind, wouldn't a young, 24 yr old with no kids ALWAYS win against a 40 year old with a life outside of the classroom? It would be unfortunate to lose these seasoned teachers because they have developed a life of their own.

Jan. 27 2011 11:41 AM
PM from Manhattan

Has anyone considered birth control as a viable solution?

Jan. 27 2011 11:41 AM
John from Office

Leah, that is the function of a union to protect its members. That means defending poor quality "educators". Who will pick and choose who is to be protected or not.

Jan. 27 2011 11:40 AM

If money doesn’t effect the education of a child why do the rich spend so much on private school tuition?

Jan. 27 2011 11:39 AM

I'm an aspiring teacher (meaning I've applied to graduate school for education and hope to start in the fall) and the whole idea of last in first out sounds incredibly unfair. If I'm better at my job than someone who has been doing it for 20 years, then why do I have to suffer because I'm younger? Bloomberg aint perfect, but this makes a lot of sense to me as a future teacher. The union clearly doesn't have my interest in mind, only that of their current members and to hell with everyone else.

Jan. 27 2011 11:39 AM
C from Manhattan

schools are not corporations otherwise the "stakeholders" (parents) could vote the CEO's in or out. Parents have ZERO voice in the NYC public schools!!!

and the burn-out of teachers is on the heads of the schools who cannot or won't manage students properly - including holding them and their parents accountable for their refusal to cooperate, do their work, and be citizens both in school and the community. this is not tolerated in other countries.

Jan. 27 2011 11:38 AM
Latisha from Nassau

Before we talk about giving more money to schools , lets separate the suburban from the city schools. In Suburban schools people are getting taxed out of their homes and teachers are well paid with 6 figures salaries being quite normal (with all benefits). More money does not equal better performance as NY is a prime example. We pay more than any other state but have average results.

Jan. 27 2011 11:38 AM
Fafa from Harlemworld

REGARD for teachers is fundamental to the current education debate/ crisis. First, a true understanding of what they do -- which goes WAY beyond the "3 Rs", particularly in my hood since crack hit the streets in the 80s. Most of us have no clue of the extensive skill set this job entails and, in turn, have insufficient RESPECT. Until this changes, there will be minimal progress, resolution. Change simply must begin with increased support and professional regard for these vital practitioners.

Jan. 27 2011 11:38 AM
john from office

The problem is that once you have a union, it has to protect its members, at the expense of the children.

If the Union can explain why so many children are not able to learn in the public school system, with billions for a budget, then they have a valid argument. But they insist on not discussing the poor quality of the education being provided.

Get rid of the union.

Jan. 27 2011 11:35 AM
Leah from Brooklyn

As a former teacher, I have to say the UFT absolutely does protect and make excuses for bad teachers (and here's how I define that term: educators who do not apply best practices; who demonstrate disregard for their students' learning, development, or affect; and who resist change and professional growth). I poured my heart into teaching and was dedicated to my students' learning, and I never understood why other teachers felt it was good for the profession to obfuscate and dissemble when there are really, truly bad practitioners in the field. Moreover, I resented the union dues I paid to protect these teachers when they were eventually in proceedings to hold them accountable for absenteeism, malpractice, or abuse.

Recognizing good teachers and holding bad teachers accountable is beneficial for the professional in general.

Jan. 27 2011 11:35 AM
Pat Clarke from Brooklyn

It's interesting that you are discussing two issues that are actually sadly related. Earlier, you were on the financial crisis fallout. The one point you neglected to make is that apparently the public employees are the ones responsible for the global financial meltdown. On the point of tenure and quality teaching, the administrators are responsible for supervising. As a union representative on suburban Long Island, I support hiring and retaining the best teachers.

Jan. 27 2011 11:34 AM
ceolaf from NYC

Principals are NOT CEOs.

Principals are branch managers.

Jan. 27 2011 11:32 AM

To Bennet - Wow, one week to get all that together. Nice. Reflective of the arbitrariness and disorder of the DOE.

Jan. 27 2011 11:32 AM
Vincent C. Wojsnis from Bronx

The issues of "tenure" and "seniority" are being deliberately distorted by the Bloomberg administration. There have always been strict guidelines for principals to approve tenure. Further, Principals can deny tenure for any reason. Likewise, seniority at present does not superceed the availability of a position and qualification.

Jan. 27 2011 10:55 AM

where would one apply for a job hitting gohpers over the head...?

Jan. 27 2011 10:44 AM
carolita from nyc

I think the message should always be: don't count on tenure, and be ready to prove your worth every year. Teachers, just like anyone, can get burned out or in a rut. I've seen teachers decline into indifference from one year to the next. A teacher who was brilliant for me, was literally beating kids four years later. Another was just totally apathetic by the time younger friends had him for latin. It's okay to have a slump when you work in the Post Office or hitting gophers over the head, maybe, but it's not okay when you're a teacher. Maybe teachers ought to go through retraining periodically, besides "applying for their job all over again." Students have to prove themselves every year -- every day! -- so, why not teachers? Any teacher worth their druthers probably feels the same way anyway.

Jan. 27 2011 10:34 AM
Bennett Horowitz from Astoria

Now in my third year of teaching and up for tenure, I have just been told that I have one week to prepare a packet of educational credentials, student achievements(with work samples) and colleague recommendations to be submitted by my principal to the district superintendent for tenure approval. This is like applying for my job all over again! The guidelines are very vague and the criteria for approval is subjective and not specific...Certainly not transparent. This is how I am spending my snow day.

Jan. 27 2011 10:18 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.