The New York City Teaching Fellows program is similar to Teach for America. Fellows are usually drawn from other professions with offers of a subsidized master’s degree and mentoring in their first year of teaching. They are usually sent to the toughest schools. It was a program conceived in an era of teacher shortage, an era that no longer exists.
Now, the Department of Education is talking of overhauling the program. Among other things, their plan calls for starting Fellows off in the classrooms earlier, so as to give them more supervised experience.
This is a solution that does not get at the issues raised by the teachers quoted in the article. Their problem lies more with the fact that they are not supported by their administrators in their all-important first year. They may get mentors from the Fellows program, but those mentors are not doing the job.
Unfortunately, what the Fellows quoted in this article face is the norm for all first-year teachers, no matter what type of program they are a part of. The Bloomberg system revolves around the idea that school administrators are nothing more than middle-management. That is to say, they are paper pushers and bureaucrats who are expected to enforce all the written and unwritten policies coming down from Tweed.
This means that administrators are not expected to be educators.
Now, there are still some principals in the system who are true educators. My first principal was a charismatic man who hired a mentor to work with me for the first two years of my career. That experience made me the educator I am today. I will be forever grateful to that principal for dedicating scarce school resources to ensure that his younger teachers got the most out of their careers and their students.
Sadly, this principal was forced out of the system. I did not know it at the time, but the times were changing. Bloomberg had just taken office and he was determined to be the “education mayor”. Administrators who actually took an interest in quality instruction, visited classrooms and provided needed resources to their teachers were not longed for the Department of Education.
What we have now, thanks to the small schools movement, is a proliferation of administrators. The number of principals has greatly expanded while the pool of talent from which they are drawn is greatly diminished. Thanks to the revolving door that the teaching profession has become, there are very few veteran educators available to become principals. Instead, what we have is a generation of new teachers who have not been properly trained, never been properly mentored and never had true fulfillment or success in the classroom. They see administration as their way out, not to mention up, and they throw themselves solely into being good Tweedies.
This is, of course, a generalization. There are still principals around like the one that stabilized my career, but they are few and far between. The best principals shield their teachers from the most destructive dictates that come from Tweed. The vast majority of them, however, ensure that their staffs get the full brunt of what Tweed hands down. After all, this might be their ticket to even greater power and authority. They might become a superintendent or a consultant for their good works.
These are the connections that the Daily News needs to make in this article. Bloomberg has been a neutron bomb for public schools in New York City. He has killed anything of life inside of them and replaced it with a mechanical, corporate-driven atmosphere. The focus is not on education at all, but on self-preservation. Administrators largely are out to secure their jobs or get better ones. The erosion of tenure has made teachers less likely to take risks by speaking out against injustices. Everyone is atomized into their own individual spaces, afraid of rocking the boat or thinking for themselves.
That is the atmosphere that the Teaching Fellows are describing. They are thrown into a classroom and told to fend for themselves. Those that actually do not delude themselves understand that they are not able to provide a quality education to their students in such circumstances. Those that care about nothing other than preserving their jobs will live with the sub-par educations they provide and hitch their wagons to their principal’s star. These will turn out to be the Tweedies of tomorrow.
This is the true meaning of mayoral control. It is why education in New York City has become a yoke, even more so than it was before, for both teachers and students.
I would venture a guess that this is why Bloomberg loves charter schools. They are a pure form of his corporate philosophy that dominates the DOE. Teachers have no rights, students are subjected to corporal punishment and principals see themselves as nothing more than data pushers and money-managers.
No matter what overhaul the DOE has in mind for the Teaching Fellows, nothing will change until the little man at the top goes away.