"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Arne, Are You Listening?

A Dream Teacher, on Many Levels

Published: June 8, 2009

To the Editor:

Scott Menchin

Re “Next Test: Value of $125,000-a-Year Teachers” (front page, June 5):

Dear Equity Project Teachers:

I know how difficult it is to find a satisfying job, and I appreciate your wanting to join my profession. It has everything going against it.

For most of us, it is neither easy nor well paid. Many people think we work for vacations, but we know that when all our hours are tallied, we work more than 52 weeks a year. We function as parents, psychologists, drug counselors, coaches, advisers, mentors and oh yes, teachers.

We love reading and writing. We stomp around the classroom broadcasting the gist of the latest piece we read in The New York Times or Sports Illustrated or Popular Mechanics or The New Yorker. We take our kids to Broadway and Europe and the Baseball Hall of Fame and a potter’s studio because we think they deserve it. We smile looking over their shoulders.

We fight with the Board of Education for the money that will allow us to enrich our students’ lives. We tell parents how it is. We hope they will come over to our side.

I wish you the best of luck. Amid the negativity and despite the difficulties, may you find half the joy that I have found as a teacher.

Monica M. Tarantino

Walton, N.Y., June 5, 2009

To the Editor:

I applaud the $125,000-a-year teacher experiment for a new charter school in Washington Heights in Manhattan, testing if “excellent teachers ... are the critical ingredient for success.”

The chosen teachers were superior because they had autonomy to hone their craft: they decided what was best for their subjects and students. They did not follow scripts, packaged curriculums, pacing guides or “best practices” mandated by administrators.

How can we expect teachers to become exemplary practitioners when educational policy denies them the self-determination these “dream team” teachers needed to excel in their craft?

Stephen Gordon

Arlington, Mass., June 5, 2009

The writer is a retired teacher.

To the Editor:

As a modestly paid middle-school teacher, I took a great deal of interest in the raise offered by the Equity Project. I agree that excellent teachers are important, but I would certainly not complain if my salary were doubled.

Maybe grossly increasing teacher salaries will cure all our educational ills, and maybe it won’t — but then, very few “excellent” teachers are in it for the money. If you want to make a difference in the lives of young people, teaching is a great career with many rewards. If you want to make a pile of money, look elsewhere. Peter Hirzel

Los Angeles, June 5, 2009

To the Editor:

Zeke M. Vanderhoek’s philosophy of what makes a great school, as featured in your article, is right on target in terms of valuing talented teachers as crucial components in creating excellent schools. But the concept that top teachers alone are the primary factor leaves out one crucial element of the equation: schools must address the “whole child,” on a social, emotional and ethical level, to be truly successful.

Addressing the “whole child” is even more critical in underserved inner-city communities like Washington Heights, where children from a young age face a multitude of daunting social and emotional problems outside the classroom, whether gangs, drugs, domestic violence, poverty and/or homelessness.

The emotional stress of coping with these issues saps children’s cognitive energy and prevents them from performing to their full ability in school. Mr. Vanderhoek’s Equity Project school would benefit from incorporating into its model the concept of addressing the “whole child” with professional social workers to provide emotional and social support to give all students the skills they need to succeed both academically and in life.

Michelle Sidrane

Exec. Dir., Partnership With Children

New York, June 5, 2009

To the Editor:

What seemed to have prompted the principal of the Equity Project school to hire the math teacher at $125,000 is what I have been promoting for all of my 45 years as a math educator: a teacher’s love for mathematics with a concomitant enthusiasm for teaching it must be the single most important criterion in selecting teachers of the subject.

All the other essentials, like the teacher’s knowledge of the subject and teaching style, will follow automatically.

This characteristic is particularly essential at the pre-secondary level, when young minds are shaped all too often to fear or dislike math. When teachers’ attitudes toward the subject become more positive, future adults in society will no longer hold weak performance in math as a source of pride!

Alfred S. Posamentier

New York, June 5, 2009

The writer is a professor of mathematics education and dean of the School of Education at City College, CUNY.

To the Editor:

What should really amaze us is not that a school is willing to pay $125,000 salaries for great teachers but that this level of compensation is so unusual as to rate front-page placement in a national newspaper.

Isn’t it amazing that a whole range of professional and business people, some in their first year of employment, can earn more than the people who taught them how to read, write, compute and think?

Isn’t that the way to build our national house on sand? Stephen Davenport

Oakland, Calif., June 5, 2009

The writer is a retired head of school and teacher in independent schools.

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