Don’t Dare Scapegoat Our Teachers


Teacher


I have never understood the criticism of teachers.
Especially considering educators have been forced to go way beyond “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” These days’ teachers are as much social workers, as they are the ones with the precious task of educating our children. Unsung heroes, and they never received proper credit. My point is simple!  Show me a success story in life, and I will show you a teacher that guided that person along.
It needs to be understood that for most kids, especially the ones in Urban America, that teachers are the first, and often, the only role model that children will encounter in their young lives. For me, one of the highlights of my life is when I was able to reunite as a grown man, with my 8th grade Bronx teacher from I.S 137, off of Webster Ave in the Bronx. Her name is Rose Fairweather-Clunie. We students called her, “Mrs. Clunie,” and I remember she always had control of her classroom.
Mrs. Clunie went on to be a principal at In-Tech Academy,MS/HS 368 in the Bronx. She headed the school since it opened in September 2000, only inches away from John F. Kennedy H.S, a school that I also attended.
All these years later, Mrs. Clunie still looked the same.
One of my crowning moments in life, right up there when I got to interview Nelson Mandela is when Mrs. Clunie had me as her graduation speaker. I will always be thankful to the United Federation of Teachers. I had did several public events for the union, and often, with deep admiration, talked about some of my former teachers. In this case, Rose Fairweather-Clunie, and in the snap of a finger, the U.F.T arranged for us to reunite.
When I sat there in Mrs. Clunie’s office, she told me about her grown sons, and I thought to myself as it hit me for the very first time ever, wait a minute, all that time you spent with us, and you have sons. A family?
Ironically, but I wasn’t surprised, when Mrs. Clunie announced her retirement, in a Riverdale Press newspaper article, students said they were sad to see her go. They said Ms. Fairweather-Clunie was a "good leader because she kept the students in line.”
She has more control over the school,” Diana Valdez, a tenth grader, said in the article. “When she passes by everybody’s quiet.”
So I am very, very appreciative of teachers.
For a fact, I wouldn't be a journalist today, if NYC public school teachers didn't believe in me. The sad reality is like so many from my community, I would be dead or in jail.
Teachers gave me the confidence that I could succeed.
So I salute my 8th grade teacher. I salute A;; teachers. Mrs. Clunie, you made a difference in so many lives. Enjoy your retirement. It is well deserved.
Teachers are the best example I can think of when it comes to “Each One, Teach One.”
I am saddened currently at what teachers have to go through politically, and how they are scapegoated.
I close this with an email, I received just the other day from a teacher. Her name is Meredith Martino.
You can sense the frustration from her, but Mrs. Martino has saved lives, and she reminds me of Mrs. Clunie.
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Hello, I tweeted you after seeing you on the Verizon news channel. I noted that you were the only one on the panel who made sense in regards to education, especially in areas where schools are considered "failing." I am looking forward to reading your book, also. I would like to share with you my dream initiative. First, I taught in the Bronx from 2000-2003. I recently heard from who student who thanked me for telling him that he was capable of high quality work in 8th grade. His message got me thinking and motivated to share this with you. I was elated to find out he has been a teacher in Washington Heights for four years now. I was a new teacher in 2000. All I did was encorage students in my 8th grade English class to write and revise until they were handing in work they were proud of. This was not easy. I had dreams of changing lives as a brand new teacher. Unfortunately, I spent a lot of time dealing with classes that honestly did not even acknowledge that I was starting a lesson. Honestly, silent reading time was a battle. Books were thrown at each other instead of read. Fights broke out and desks were tossed around. A gun and knives were found in my classroom. I do not mind admitting this because every single day I tried my best and so many kids in my classroom tried to learn in the midst of this. So many teachers and students experience this daily. This has nothing to do with a lack of teacher preparation or training.
Every student enters a classroom with a story. Often times, school is truly something that he or she cannot focus on. Imagine a young girl finding out her twin brother has been in her class all year-neither of them knew. A student had to ride the subway at night when her mother's boyfriend visited. Another student began crying one day, her makeup began to come off and her bruised face was revealed. An effective teacher will show compassion and realize that writing workshop is not a priority in this child's life and may not be for quite some time. I cannot imagine a teacher or politician would think any student would perform to the best of his or her ability on a test, project, or a state exam.
So my dream initiative accompanies the current push for teacher accountability. Students are part of this, too. They are vital to the success of their education. Let's send a message to students to go home and read, do homework, and have grit. Regardless of where you live or go to school, value your teachers. Classroom time does not mean comprehension time. Students must be accountable for practicing until comprehension occurs. This means work for the teacher and the student. Instead of labeling schools, students, and teachers as failing let's focus on team work. Students are aware that teachers are evaluated based on their test scores. Students know the state tests truly do not count for their grades. They are not held accountable for reading a passage too quickly, skipping questions, choosing the wrong answer, or not including two text details. Teachers are held accountable for a test we have never seen. I have yet to have viewed an 8th grade Common Core exam, yet I am evaluated by its results. I proctored for the 7th grade the past 3 years. The 11th grade Common Core was shared with teachers last year. Why are teachers grades 3-8 not allowed to view the tests our students took? Right now, the teacher is rated based on this. It scares me that a state test may possibly count for 50% of our evaluation. I do not mind being accountable for my students and my lessons, but students must part of this plan. A positive education initiative, even just on social media, should encourage respecting teachers, paying attention in school, and respecting oneself and his or her peers. Your reading Lexile does not improve just because you were in school. It improves when you read in and out of school. We need a positive message being spread, not one about failure. Money should be spent providing more counseling for students who need it, extra help, a safe environment, and support for teachers. Funds should go to the school and its students, not testing companies and private investors at charter schools. The message should be about achievement for all. Our entire country needs to support public school students and teachers.
Overall, I do not see why our politicians do not encourage students to always do their best work, to pay attention in school, and promote studying outside of school. Longer school days, bashing teachers, charter schools, tax caps, outside observers evaluating teachers, and standardized preparation and testing are not solutions.
Thank you for taking the time to look at this. Also, thank you for the positive and compassionate work you do.

Sincerely, Meredith Martino

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