Alexander Nazaryan of the New York Daily News and His Hatred for Teaching

The following piece appeared in this Sunday’s New York Daily News. The “author” is some guy who was a teacher for 4 years and feels qualified enough to spew unadulterated hate for the profession and the children of New York City.

I have quoted chunks of the article and written responses to each chunk.

In my first year in the classroom, I was an excellent teacher. I know that because I was told so constantly. We all were, every single one of us trying to keep a then-failing (it is better now, I hear) middle school in Flatbush from collapsing into a brick-pile of juvenile chaos. Young teachers like me, fresh out of the New York City Teaching Fellows, were “superstars”; old-timers with Queens accents who wore their Fordham windbreakers to class were “real pros.”

Drivel. At best, you were rated as a “satisfactory” teacher, since there really was no such rating as “excellent”. Who was telling you that you were excellent, exactly?

No, young teachers like you were never “superstars”. Never once in my 12 years of teaching did I ever hear anyone within a school building refer to Teaching Fellows as “superstars”. Teaching Fellows were the people who quit after one, two or three years. In your case, it was four.

Nor have I ever heard the term “real pros”. What type of nonsensical, fantasy world are you painting, exactly?

We were excellent when students fought during free reading time. We were excellent when we forgot to write up lesson plans because we had been out drinking the night before. We were excellent when we shouted and threatened. When that didn’t work, we called the dean. If she was busy, we yelled some more. Throughout it all, we were excellent, even if the seventh-grade math and reading tests then used to measure schools indicated that excellence wasn’t quite the word for what we were doing. Survival, more like it. Guerrilla warfare, if you want to be ungenerous.

Who is we?

1) Did my students ever fight during reading time? No

2) Have I ever walked into a classroom without writing a lesson? No.

3) Have I ever shouted and threatened? What teacher has not?

4) Did I call the dean? I was the dean.

5) Did I yell some more? Nope.

Utter drivel. None of this resembles reality in any way. “Excellent”, “forgetting” to write lesson plans? Are you serious?

And when it came time for our evaluations, which came once or twice a year, depending on seniority, excellence was affirmed. Everyone got the “Satisfactory” rating that, in New York City’s Education Department, all but guarantees you not only keep your job, but do with that job whatever you please – show “The Outsiders” for the 17th time to your senior English class or teach your third-graders ancient Greek.

“Satisfactory” is not “excellent”. Satisfactory means you fulfilled certain minimum requirements of being a teacher. Does every teacher get an  S? No. Not even by the statistics you provide later in your article.

As far as “showing the Outsiders for the 17th time to your senior English class”, what was the context? I am pretty sure you have never seen a teacher show the Outsiders 17 straight times to their senior English class. Either you stalked a colleague’s classroom and kept track of what they were doing for at least 17 days or you are pulling anecdotes out of your aspiration to be a shill for Bloomberg.

What is wrong with teaching Greek to 3rd graders? Are you saying New York City kids are too dumb to learn Greek? I was a NYC kid, were you?

Of the dozens of teachers who taught with me, I did not know a single one who received an “Unsatisfactory” rating. Not the one who allegedly locked students in a closet, nor those who didn’t know the subject they taught. In fact, that was true for pretty much the rest of the city’s 80,000 teachers, of whom less than 3% received a U-rating last year.

So, how many teachers should get a “U” rating? 3% is obviously too low for you. Obviously, every profession needs to have a certain minimum rate of people being fired. So, what is the magic percentage? 5? 10? Is it just teachers who are subject to this arbitrary purging, or doctors, lawyers, police officers and firefighters as well?

If 3% of teachers get a “U”, what is the overall attrition rate? Around 45% of teachers in NYC leave after 4 years. Looks like you fall into that category.

Why do so many teachers leave? Mostly columns like yours that piss all over the profession.

Not to mention how you want to affect the kids. You want to take a system with a 45% attrition rate and fire MORE people? Essentially, you do not want children to keep any of their teachers. You want a complete revolving door where people have as much dedication to the children as you, which is not at all.

 Amazing that the children of New York have such wonderful stewards. Why do only 65% of them graduate from high school? Their own damn fault, it goes without saying. Or wait, maybe their parents’. Anyone’s but ours.

Amazing how 65% of them graduate when only 55% of their teachers stay.

And why are you obsessed with fault? You’re attacking some straw man teacher who is “blaming” other people. In fact, you are the one who is casting the blame.

There is no “blame”. There is a broken socioeconomic system that is an outgrowth of our history. It’s the way of the world, Pollyanna.

Despite improvements here and there around the edges, this is more or less the same system we have in place today. That’s why it’s so dispiriting to listen to the continued, predictable and outworn opposition of the United Federation of Teachers and fellow travelers to Mayor Bloomberg’s plan, announced during Thursday’s State of the City speech, which would make evaluations much more rigorous, much more tied to student achievement gains and much less dependent on the kind of solely subjective observations that made me an instant superstar. The best teachers would be rewarded with $20,000; the worst would be fired.

Bloomberg has no “plan”. He does not think teachers should be able to appeal “U” ratings. That has always been the sticking point between the UFT and DOE. They pretty much see eye-to-eye on everything else.

But what you’re really doing here is shilling for Pearson and the other deformers who stand to profit from more data and testing. You believe “performance” is measured in a test score (that is what the proposed evaluation does). You believe in merit pay that has failed everywhere, including in NYC.

Why don’t you criticize Bloomberg for recycling the same crusty ideas?

The unions, forever in love with mediocrity, fear both equally.

Mediocrity is your teaching career, not to mention this fluff piece.

If teachers union head Michael Mulgrew had his way, teacher evaluations would always look exactly like they did for me in Flatbush. The assistant principal — a fearsome old creature with a bad leg who made excellent Jamaican beef patty — would tell you days in advance that she was going to do her formal observation. You would submit a lesson plan, even if you otherwise taught off a bar napkin. She would invariably approve the plan.

What in the world does making Jamaican beef patties have to do with anything? It contributes nothing to your point. That remark is just a gratuitous jab meant to imply the nationality of the AP to which you refer. Cheap, very cheap.

How many lesson plans should be rejected? How many treatment plans should doctors have rejected or legal arguments lawyers have rejected? Why do you just assume that teachers should have their lessons rejected? Your hate for teachers is dripping from everything you say. You are obviously using your forum in a major newspaper to grind some personal axes from your old school.

On the appointed day, she would lumber into the classroom and sit at the back with her clipboard, glowering at me like a pedagogical Buddha. The kids were perfect, silent during “free read,” appropriately vocal during the “lecture,” collaborating on the subsequent assignment like dutiful worker bees.

She stayed for 10 minutes, maybe 20. Afterward, we held a “conference” during which she asked if I had accomplished my objective. I was ultimately excellent, even if about a third of my students — and I am, sadly, not exaggerating here — could not write a paragraph.

Why is she “lumbering” into your room? Are you implying that she is dumb or slow or, something much worse? If your students could not write a paragraph, is that your fault? You obviously sucked as a teacher and should have been fired, right? That could be the only possible argument that you are making here.

There were so many protections built into this system that a corpse could teach in a New York public school — and plenty do. Even the exceedingly rare “Unsatisfactory” rating doesn’t mean much, as one had to accrue several for termination proceedings to begin. This was a slow process protracted by union officials who had a kabbalistic knowledge of the rules and an uncanny ability to suffocate any action against one of their own. Our union officials were two women who could have played on the Giants front line. If they at least tolerated you, you were set.

Huh? Union “officials” (you mean Chapter Leaders? Way to make them sound all scary.) are the most targeted people in schools. They know the rules? Here is a clue: THERE ARE NO RULES. Despite your ridiculous characterization, there is literally nothing a CL can do if an administrator wants to go after a teacher. How do I know? I was a chapter leader.

So even if the assistant principal – she of the excellent Caribbean cuisine – wanted to get rid of you, she had no power to do so. She could not do a surprise observation, could not, essentially, make a criticism of my teaching that would have any meaningful impact on my career. The mere act of teaching poor black and Latino kids insulated us entirely not only from criticism, but from the kind of thoughtful feedback that could have made that very act of teaching better. I was told in my first week of teaching: As long as you have an aim on the board and aren’t in the act of actually murdering your students, you are going to be fine.

Why should she want to get rid of you?

It’s funny, never once as a young teacher did I ever say I teach “black and Latino” students, since I do not see my kids in that way. I was a city kid (were you?) and my students could have easily been my peers and neighbors growing up. Only someone totally aware of race, as you obviously are, would frame the issue in this way. You’re implying that teachers of black and Latino kids get a pass because nobody cares about black and Latino kids.

You know who does not care about black and Latino kids? People like you with no dedication to them.

It took me several years to become less than excellent in the eyes of my principal — in other words, to become a better teacher.

It took, first of all, moving from the middle school in Flatbush to the Brooklyn Latin School, a public high school in Bushwick that I am enormously proud to have helped start. I spent four years there, shedding fake excellence while learning the genuine kind.

I did not tell you the name of my assistant principal in Flatbush, for obvious reasons. And for reasons just as obvious, I will tell you the name of Brooklyn Latin’s principal, who came from a working-class family in Scranton, went to Catholic school, then to Princeton, then got the insane idea that a black kid from Brooklyn could do the same.

His name is Jason Griffiths. He worked, and still works, fully within the system, meaning that we were a public school that didn’t get any exemptions from the rules. We just did more — to be precise, more of what Bloomberg wants every school to do. We did it because otherwise our students wouldn’t have a chance.

He was in your classroom every day, sometimes more than once a day. He took notes while you taught, then emailed you the notes. Then, several times each year, you had a conference — a real conference, that is, in which you sat for about two hours somewhere outside the school building, usually in what was then the one hipster cafe on Bushwick Ave. There, you discussed the strengths and weaknesses of your teaching, going methodically through a chart of pedagogical traits on which you were graded. You know, as if you were a professional.

He was the first person who criticized my teaching. Told me I talked too much. That I favored the smart kids, got irritated by the ones who needed more help. That I was disorganized as hell. Did the truth make me uncomfortable? A little. But I needed to hear it.

So you crap all over your entire point by pointing out that a principal had held you accountable IN THE EXISTING SYSTEM. The system you spent paragraphs attacking as protecting bad teachers all of the sudden works. Why are you arguing?

Why are you comparing Brooklyn Latin, a gifted high school, to a middle school in Flatbush?

He also delved into the terrifying world of numbers. Although our data tracking system was not nearly as sophisticated as the one Bloomberg and Gov. Cuomo have proposed (and which Mulgrew and friends are treating like the bane of the teaching profession), it in many ways mirrors what they would like to do: measure how kids are doing based on test results. Not in a way that privileges the student who starts off excellent, but in a way that recognizes improvement.

And what does recognizing improvement in test scores tell you? Oh, I see, you’re shilling again for Pearson. This time, you are worshipping at the altar of “value added”? How many times must that silly idea be destroyed before the dogmatists and witch hunters like you give it up?

At Brooklyn Latin, each year, in every subject (from art history to introductory Latin), students took four midterm assessments and one final assessment – just like in college, which they were all expected to attend. The two weeks after each assessment were the most grueling of the year, spent compiling the data, analyzing the data for each student, then each department, then analyzing the present assessment against past ones, then having a conference with Jason about whether your students were improving, whether your instruction was working, whether the tests (which we wrote ourselves) were measuring what we wanted them to meas-ure, and what we could do better during the next assessment, which was just a month away.

We didn’t sleep much. Jason slept even less.

The truth is, we didn’t want to sleep. We wanted to be treated with the same respect that our banker and doctor friends basked in. The ones who are pushed to constantly be better, to constantly add value, to constantly prove their worth. Teachers say they are being maligned, that they are not being paid enough. I say to that: Go to your average South Bronx high school and tell me, really, who’s getting the short end of the stick?

It may be that union opposition will kill Bloomberg’s teacher evaluation plan. That will be a shame, not so much for proponents of one political ideology over another, but the children of New York, who finally deserve some teachers who aren’t excellent all the time.

You’re extrapolating your anecdotal experience at a gifted school in Brooklyn to the entire system. You have actually never taught the average high school kid. You haven’t done much teaching at all. But your little 4 years experience in the DOE qualifies you as some sort of expert in this day and age, just like Cathie Black was an expert in school administration.

Your article is an insult to me and every dedicated teacher in the system. It is a shame that you are allowed a forum where your misinformed hatred can infect the public discussion on public education. In truth, both public education and the education debate are too important to be entrusted to people like you.

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2 responses to “Alexander Nazaryan of the New York Daily News and His Hatred for Teaching

  1. From the get go someone is trying to blame their drfficiency on the protection of the union. If you are a dedicated teacher who wants to make a difference in students lives you do not need a slave driver.. It’s people people who stay up in bars and write lesson plans on napkins needs monitoring.. It was the lazy work attitude that he exhibit, forced his principal to micro manage every move he made. Shame on you that it took someone to turn you into a reflective individual. As a teacher the proverb of do on to others as you would have them do to you should be always at the center of your minds. The author of the article mistaken the AP respect for individuals as weakness. I am very elated that he could no longer pretend hence retreated. Now he is jumping on the backs of those who received him with open arms.. Trator indeed.

  2. Pingback: My Experience With Teach for America | assailedteacher

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