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

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


I worked for 4 years as a mentor to 19 new teachers (TFA corps members getting their Masters) in my role as a field specialist at Fordham University.  I explained to them how different my preparation to become a teacher was compared to the lack of preparation they received.

One major difference was that when I student taught at Taft H.S. in the Bronx I had a master teacher, Phyllis Opochinsky, as my cooperating teacher. I was not allowed to teach for weeks. I only observed her and other teachers. We discussed methodologies. We prepared lesson plans. We discussed techniques. Only then was I allowed to “teach a class” once a week with her observing and coaching afterwards. Finally, when she deemed me ready, was I allowed to take on one of her classes full time.

After several years of observing what has happened to her chosen profession, my guru speaks:

“After three decades of teaching I know what many of you have yet to learn.  I wrote the lessons and tests and decided what my students needed to know about history, government, and current events - And then I graded the tests. 

However, I learned to build in other measurements because I recognized my own fallibility. What arrogance would it have been to think I could decide and then measure what they knew? 

So I questioned them, using questions designed to be thought-provoking rather than one word answer fact driven, listened to their answers to and added their participation in calculating grades.  In addition there were grades on term papers and projects. 

I learned to look for those who came at the questions differently-- the creative thinkers.  I wanted them to love learning and leave the classroom still talking about what they learned.  Interestingly, I had MANY colleagues who did the same!  This all happened in the Bronx at Taft and Walton High Schools.

We were not measured by our test results. We were taught and supervised not by business people and politicians, but by supervisors, colleagues and our students about what worked and what didn't work.

Where is the time for a "teachable moment" in classes where an answer takes the class and teacher in a never to be forgotten experience? 

Where is there time for the one sentence comment to a class or student that is life changing? 

Where is the opportunity for teachers, not those outside the profession, to design and grow something like the Walton High School /Lehman College Pre-Teaching Academy where high school students interned and taught their peers.

I am so saddened about this testing system and lock step teaching. 

Hopefully, this will change but the change must be fast!”


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