Michelle Pietromonaco, a teacher in NYC recently shared a letter, which she submitted to Mayor Bloomberg, with Social Justice Solutions. Below she shares some further reflections on the broader implications of the tenure practices discussed in that letter.
Dear Social Justice Solutions Readers,
What I mostly disregarded in my letter to Mayor Bloomberg, an advocate for closing schools and privatizing education through building charters, is the farther-reaching implications to education.
Teaching fellowships (NYCTF, TFA, MFA, just to name a few) all seek new teachers for classrooms, who posses passion, intelligence, and a proven record of excellence, to enter failing schools and create a successful learning environment. Many of us enter thinking we can change the world by conquering these classroom. In addition to purposefully entering failing schools, there has also been hiring freeze that’s been in place for the past few years, and we only received opportunities at the new small schools that were being opened. With new staffs, it is easy for a first through third year teacher to be one of the most experienced on staff. When the school began, the Math Department consisted of two brand new teachers, from Teach for America, who had just one summer program to prepare. When I started I had one of those teachers, in his third year, and a New York City Teaching Fellow, also with just one summer of experience, to learn from. The original teacher has now left; in my third year I am the most experienced math teacher on staff. This cripples our ability to seek out experienced teachers for advice. We are all reinventing the wheel on a daily basis in nearly complete isolation from the professional community that could help us.
This is one obstacle in the way of our students obtaining the education they need and deserve. It perpetuates a cycle of failing schools, furthering the educational disparity that exists between communities of different socioeconomic statuses and backgrounds. Often, and overwhelmingly, the prior schools which were shut down were closed because they failed, in large part, because they were working with a difficult population in a challenging area. This same population who face the most challenges, is being met with inexperienced teachers and staff. We work tirelessly to improve schools and rarely even know how to rate our success. I have had mentors and professors in graduate school say that a first year teacher should not expect the students to learn…it’s about the teacher learning.
Can you imagine if a first year doctor were told not to expect patients to live, just to learn more, or how about a first year doctor opening a private practice with only new doctors? That’s what the shutting down of schools seems to be creating, new schools, with new principals and teachers, all of whom might be successful, but without the mentoring or time to grow. I imagine the next step is to shut down these new schools and open other new schools or perhaps if we try enough new schools, principals and staffs, eventually one will work out. This is like a student who keeps taking a state exam because eventually they will guess enough multiple choice answers to pass and graduate.
Denying tenure, closing schools, taking away licenses, and driving teachers away from the profession hurts our students, our schools, and our communities. Continuing to place new teachers in new isolated and small schools will continue the burnout that drives many excellent teachers from the profession in a short period of time. It will continue the perpetuation of poor student outcomes. We need to support and keep new teachers so they can become the experienced teachers needed to mentor our students and newly graduated teachers. We need this so the system can begin to support our schools and children instead of failing them.
Are you a social worker or teacher seeing similar issues with in your school? If so, please share. In addition, Michelle is open to answering any questions or comments regarding her letter. Her email is: Mpietromonaco2@gmail.com
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