Demoralization and Dejection On Chancellor’s Conference Day

June 6, 2013


Today as part of Chancellor’s Conference Day, my fellow teachers and I were obliged to sit through a talk on “Teacher Effectiveness” which seems to be the code word for the brand new teacher evaluation plan released by NYSED Commissioner King on Saturday and to be implemented beginning this September. It was for many of the teachers present the first real exposure to the speeding locomotive racing straight at their hearts and heads.

The presentation was as strange as the subject matter was overwhelming. We sat, the bunch of us, staring at a projector screen filled with graphs and charts while a disembodied voice of a DOE official called “Dave” bumbled his way through the graphics.
Halfway through, disembodied “Dave” was replaced by disembodied Shael Polakow- Sharansky, chief academic officer of the NYC Public Schools. Introduced by “Dave” as “Shael” as if he were an old pal of ours, Sharansky droned on and on and on about a system built upon junk science that seems to be designed to exhaust teachers for the sake of exhausting them, keep administrators and teachers at each others throats, and above all create a climate of perpetual fear. All of this, of course, is to put children first and insure that they would be collage and career ready. Sharansky informed one and all of how we were one and all to be judged, and if need be, fired if we proved to be “ineffective” as teachers.
The torrent of information seemed not merely horrible but interminable. Even though I was familiar with much of what “Dave” and “Shael” were going on about, in time the sheer volume, vulgarity and ruthlessness of the stuff shut down my brain. At the same time I knew most if not all of my colleagues were hearing this for the first time.

Every by and by, I looked around the room and studied the faces and eyes of these decent, hardworking talented teachers I’ve come to know and respect and care about over the years. In time, as the disembodied voices droned on, their eyes grew blank or fearful, their faces masks of dejection. Once in a while I’d catch a colleague’s eye from across the room and they would inevitably shake their head as if to say, “This is insane.”
At last the weird presentation on “Teacher Effectiveness” drew to a close and our principal, a decent and caring person if there ever was one, did her best to address and disperse the palpable distress in the room but to no avail. The truth, moreover, is that she too is in the crosshairs. The mood remained funereal and appropriately so. These were not people who were against “accountability, ” a word that along with “compliance” has taken on an almost sacred status in the Church of Corporate Education Reform. These were people who, like all people, wished simply to be treated fairly and with the dignity of their chosen and noble profession.
Slowly, as if recovering from shock, people drifted out of the big room. I watched them as they walked and knew what they were thinking because we were all thinking of variations on the same theme: “How did my union agree to this?” and “Who could sustain such a work load?” and “How long will it be before I’m fired?” and “How will I feed my kids ?”
I imagine the disembodied presentation was held in hundreds of schools across the city today to very much the same effect, which is to say, complete demoralization of the teaching staff.

It is impossible to conceive of any thing good coming out of any plan this joyless, this convoluted, this degrading, this a-human. But something will come, that is for certain.

Ours is a very vicious and violent hour.


8 Responses to “Demoralization and Dejection On Chancellor’s Conference Day”

  1. Carol Says:

    Today, ask how many of your dejected teachers voted in the last UFT election. Then ask how many of them voted for Mike Mulgrew. Then look them straight in the eye and say, “by voting for Mulgrew or not voting at all, you actually agreed to all of this”. His Unity group formed the basis for this back in 2009. If the UFT along with the NYSUT never agreed to go along with Race to the Top, we would not be in this horrible situation. Race to the Top dangled a carrot of money to all the states in America. States that wanted the money had to agree to make changes to their evaluation systems. State teacher unions who were not willing to make changes to their evaluation systems would not be eligible for the money. Bottom line: we got sold out, just like the majority, (But not all, states) A few brave state teacher unions rejected the offer of the money because they new it meant changing the evaluation system.

  2. Jane Myers Says:

    Although I appreciate your concern, I must say that we teachers did this to ourselves. We voted Mulgrew into office. Most of us buried our heads in the sand these past years under Bloomberg. When you act like a lamb going off to the slaughter—-well—you get treated like a lamb going off to the slaughter. I too suffered through this training yesterday but my reaction was to make a note each time I thought of a way to use danielson against the school system at large such as my seeking of outside resources for my instruction—-my expensive list of resources and my rationale for their use will be compiled over the summer—-and if not purchased it’s a piece of documentation that the school is interfering with my ability to be highly effective. Read danielson with an eye toward— what must the school do or provide to ensure my students and I have what we need to be effective under the new framework?

    • patrickwalsh Says:

      I applaud your plan and wish you well with it and I will pass it on to my fellow teachers. You are also right about the lambs to slaughter but let us hope that this is the wake up call that will radicalize many of our fellow teachers. Let us also hope it is not too late. Thanks for writing.

  3. Pogue Says:

    It certainly was demoralizing. The UFT can try to spin these evaluations any way they like. The truth is they are too far removed from the classroom to care anymore. The UFT leadership has afforded teachers “punching bag” status to the educational privatizing reformers.

    It is currently a broken union.

  4. a 17 year teacher Says:

    What you expressed here was tragedy. I stumbled here because I can’t sleep. Been surfing from blog to blog hoping to find out anything new in regard to this evaluation eventhough I know it better than most – what I am truly trying to find is some ray of hope in it. I feel belittled because I fear the consequences of this evaluation. I am a good teacher like so many countless others in this system. I honestly fear losing my job thus career thus my home thus my the life my husband and I have worked so hard to give our growing children. I mean, this is literally what I have been thinking about in my head for some time now. I too looked into the eyes of the staff I have worked with for many years today as we saw a demonstration via the web. I hated it. I hate the fear this unknown will bring and I hate my union for not doing one thing to help put my honest fears to ease.

    • patrickwalsh Says:

      Many intelligent people I know believe this monstrosity will fall under its own weight. Let us hope that is true. Meanwhile, your fears are my fears and we must fight like hell to let the public know what is being done to us and to push our union into doing their job. Thank you for writing. Keep the faith. Right now it is all we have.

      • Michael Fiorillo Says:

        This will fall apart because of it’s unworkability (and probably legal challenges, as well), but there’s a limited amount of consolation to be drawn from that.

        First, many teachers will be ground to bits in the interim and, second, if and when it falls apart the same sell-out UFT leadership will be in place to “negotiate” its successor.

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