Thursday, August 12, 2010

"...had I read it then, I would probably be a better person than the one I am today and certainly a better educator."

I skipped commenting on Beth Aviv's (nee Beth Greenbaum) Salon essay, The hot young teacher they hired instead, because it hit a little too close to home right now, and I didn't want Jennifer to read it. It depressed me enough as it was.

But I hit the roof when I read Martha Infante's sanctimonious response:

Professional development may or may not be the focus of a school’s principal, or district. In lean budget times, a teacher wanting to make an impact will pay out of pocket to find the right training, read the right book, talk to the expert in the field to make sure they are professionally ready to meet the needs of that classroom’s students, no matter what they are. And it never ends; the students are different from class to class, year to year, school by school, state by state. An exemplary teacher will never stop training.

An exemplary teacher’s resume would contain lists of workshops, conferences, and trainings they have attended. It would show a depth of knowledge in a couple of fields, because knowledge a mile wide and an inch deep does no one much good. As a content expert then, the teacher would have shared their knowledge in a professional learning community. The resume would show local, state, and national conferences in which they have shared their expertise with other educators. Fellowships, Fulbrights, awards and recognitions would demonstrate a teacher like this was determined to acquire unique learning experiences with educators at an international level.

Returning to the school, the teacher would be an innovator and a leader who would identify areas of need in the school community, and galvanize support to form clubs, programs, or initiatives that help students directly. Are students hungry? They acquire donations from the community. Are they eating unhealthy food? Lobby the district to eliminate junk food from schools. Are there to many crimes committed against students on the way home? Work with parents to organize a safe walk home program. You get the picture.

In short, it is unlikely that an accomplished teacher like this would be allowed to be fired from the school to be replaced by a rookie who cannot yet provide the same depth of contribution as the veteran, no matter what kind of shoes they wear (the author lamented having to wear comfort shoes instead of more appealing shoes due to her age.)

I invested the ten frickin' seconds it took to look up Ms. Aviv's book, Bearing Witness: Teaching About the Holocaust, on Amazon, which has some illuminating quotes.

Moshe Sokolow of Yeshiva University in Columbia University Teachers College Record:

Had BEARING WITNESS been written 30 years ago as the tide of Holocaust studies was rising, rather than at its crest, and had I read it then, I would probably be a better person than the one I am today and certainly a better educator. This is the power of Beth Aviv Greenbaum's narrative of her experience, along with her students', in developing, delivering and assessing a course in Holocaust literature.

Far from being a narrow, parochial presentation of a particularistic subject, the book is a paradigm of multi-media, multi-sensory, multi-intelligenced and multi-faceted pedagogy. While it may appear oxymoronic (or, at least ironic), I enjoyed reading the book. As familiar as I was with the plot and the characters, as much as I knew the outcome at the outset, I looked forward to each consecutive chapter. That is memorable, and memorable, in pedagogy, is effective.

Gerda Weissman Klein and Kurt Klein:

What is most striking about Beth Greenbaum's method of teaching is that she is not content to merely present the facts to her students, but manages to engage them until they literally walk in the shoes of the victims, and to some extent in those of the perpetrators. Lengthy discussions follow the presentation of the material, and by challenging her students to face the moral dilemmas the victims were confronted with almost daily, she brings as much reality to the events as is possible from this distance in time and location. The effectiveness of her teaching is evidenced in the countless perceptive reactions on the part of her students, be it in their verbal analyses or in the essays they ware compelled to write. It seems that no one leaves her course without an entirely different perspective on that world that was than when they began those sessions.

Look, I don't know Beth Aviv, but in addition to the above she's got an Ed.M. from Harvard and 30 years experience teaching English. She doesn't need PD, and she shouldn't have to moonlight as a community organizer (not that she ever implies she's teaching in a disadvantaged school).

Right now, experience isn't valued by schools enough for them to pay for it if they can avoid doing so. That's it.