Teachers Do The Talking

Melissa Bailey PhotoWhen Obama’s top school official came to a city turnaround school, he popped a question: How do we get more Tamara Raifords “clamoring” to teach in low-performing schools?

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (pictured) heard several answers directly from New Haven teachers as he took part in a discussion Tuesday morning at the Brennan/Rogers School in West Rock.

Duncan didn’t come to town to give a speech. He played the role of interviewer in a 90-minute talk with school staff, students, union leaders and politicians in the school library.

After a full half-hour of congratulations between politicians, mostly focused on New Haven’s 2009 teachers’ contract that paved the way for new teacher evaluations and turnaround schools, teachers were invited to join the conversation in front of a bank of TV cameras.

Tamara Raiford (at right in the photo at the top of this story), who teaches pre-K at Brennan/Rogers, introduced herself as the only teacher in the district to leave a top-performing Tier I school to join a low-performing “turnaround.” She joined the school in 2010, as Brennan/Rogers launched a so-called turnaround effort, an experiment designed to reverse a trend of years of poor performance. As the school became the city’s first in-house turnaround, over half of the staff were replaced, and teachers were asked to sign up for a longer school day.

Raiford used to teach 1st grade at Davis Street Arts and Academics School, a top-performing Tier I school. A New Haven native, she became a teacher after working for over 10 years as a paraprofessional.

She said she chose Brennan/Rogers for “the challenge.”

Secretary Duncan listened to her tale and began an interview.

“The start of your statement I think was really profound—that you may have been the only Tier I teacher to make this switch. ... How do we as a teaching profession create a climate in which everyone is clamoring to come into schools like this ... where this is a badge of honor?”

If we wanted “100 of your colleagues from Tier I schools every single year to say ‘we’ve done a great job here and we want to replicate that work in communities that haven’t been so blessed,’ ... what do we need to do systemically to get a whole bunch more folks following the example that you’ve set?”

Raiford replied that her drive stemmed from instructors who inspired her and impressed upon her that teaching was far more than “a job.” She got lured to the job when the district approached paraprofessionals and offered free training at Gateway and Southern Connecticut State University that would lead to teaching certificates.

“No one becomes a teacher to get rich,” she added.

“We’re working on that,” Duncan replied.

Fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Dauphinais (pictured), a New Haven artist and musician who joined Brennan’s turnaround effort as part of a career change, gave Duncan two concrete answers.

First, she said, beef up teacher preparation programs so that teachers are ready to work in an urban environment. Dauphinais stressed the importance of her own training in urban ed: Before debuting as a co-teacher last school year at Brennan, she spent two years as an intern, working full-time in an urban school setting in South Norwalk. The two years of internships—unusual in the profession—were part of the Quinnipiac University Masters in Art and Teaching program. In addition to working days in a school, she took classes at night.

Dauphinais later said that classroom experience was vital in preparing a new teacher to do turnaround work in New Haven.

A third teacher, Kimberlee Henry, agreed that teachers who are not familiar with urban education are “not ready” for an environment like New Haven.

Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, later picked up on Dauphinais’ point.

“Teachers need to spend a lot more time in the classroom” as part of their training, he said. His remark drew nods of support from the three teachers on the panel.

Right now, most teacher prep programs require only one semester of student teaching, according to New Haven teachers union president Dave Cicarella.

Cirasuolo called for shifting to a “medical school model,” or a “clinical model,” where teachers are tested in the classroom before earning certificates.

Randi Weingarten (pictured), president of the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT), agreed that teachers need preparation for “different kinds of environments,” including urban ones.

Sharon Palmer, head of the statewide AFT, called for bringing back a statewide program called TOPS, or Teaching Opportunities for Paraprofessional Staff, to create a pipeline for more teachers like Raiford. The program was defunded, she said.

“That’s a great point,” replied Duncan, who took over from U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro as the facilitator of the conversation.

Duncan’s visit came as part of the Department of Education’s RESPECT Project, which aims to elevate the teaching profession through conversations that empower teachers to inform policy.

“Despite the fact that teaching is intellectually demanding, rigorous, and complex work, too often American educators are not treated like professionals,” reads a DOE summary of the program. “They typically receive little real-world classroom experience before certification, and once in the profession, they are generally not effectively supported, appropriately compensated, or promoted based on their accomplishments. Too often, teachers find themselves in schools with cultures where inflexible work rules discourage innovation and restrict their opportunities to work together and take on leadership responsibilities.”

Click here to read more about the project.

Duncan called New Haven’s work on the teacher contract, and its continued collaboration between labor and management, a “success story.”

Teachers “too often get the lion’s share of the blame,” agreed Rep. DeLauro. She said in order to improve the schools, “teachers voices need to be heard.”

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 29, 2012  5:01pm

Arne Duncan and Randi Weingarten.Give me a break.Both are the king of Three card monte.In fact read this report when he was head of Chicago school system.


Did you also know that under Arne Duncan Chicago’s public schools are now being sued by black teachers for racial discrimination.


My friends in New York told me that Randi Weingarten since 2005 has systematically sold out teachers every step of the way. They told me they never seen Weingarten in a public setting where she hasn’t pushed an agenda that is detrimental to her own members.


How come Diane Ravitch was not at the table.

posted by: Jacques Strap on May 29, 2012  5:02pm

I would’ve liked to have asked Secretary Duncan what the government is doing to hold delinquent parents accountable?  You know, the ones who don’t come to parent-teacher conferences, who habitually send their kids to school late, who send their kids to school with doritos and soda for lunch, who keep having kids when they can’t properly take care of those they already have?

Then I’d advise Sec. Duncan to investigate why so much money is being spent on assistant superintendents and directors downtown, and on trips to boast of a reform effort that isn’t even 3 years old?

As for urban teaching, I don’t need any more courses or training.  My parents raised me to have respect for adults at school, to do as I’m told the first time and not run out of the room or swear at the teacher.

Let’s stop excusing poor student behavior behind the guise of urban education.  Let’s start holding these parents and students accountable.

posted by: anonymous on May 29, 2012  5:18pm

“No one becomes a teacher to get rich,” she added.

“We’re working on that,” Duncan replied.

Interested in learning exactly how Duncan (and Obama) are working on that.  If teacher salaries had kept pace with the economy’s productivity gains since 1980, teachers would currently be making $100,000 per year. 

Unfortunately, all gains in productivity have resulted in increases in the wealth of the top 1%, while wages for most of the rest of us have actually declined.

Although Romney proposes tax cuts that make the Bus tax cuts for the wealthy look like a tax increase, the fact is that Obama’s proposals won’t do anything to combat rising income inequality either.

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on May 29, 2012  5:52pm

“we’re working on that”. He didn’t listen to her. She said we don’t go into teaching to get rich. We don’t want teachers who do.

So much for the whole respect thing.

posted by: JohnTulin on May 29, 2012  5:57pm

“Teachers need to spend a lot more time in the classroom” as part of their training, he said. His remark drew nods of support from the three teachers on the panel.

How about this:  executive directors, CEOs of ed non-profits, politicians, administrators, and every other form of guru talkin’ the talk NEED TO SPEND A LOT MORE (ANY!?!) IN THE CLASSROOM.

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on May 29, 2012  7:19pm

Here’s a video of the protest outside. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ic5FM34NNC4&feature=share

posted by: ramonesfan on May 29, 2012  9:32pm

@ Jacques Strap

Not too many people like to make your point, perhaps out of fear of seeming politically incorrect.  Are the parents taking an active interest in their kids homework?  Do they review it with them?  Or is the lure of TV, video games and the streets too great to resist?

Show me a kid who invests little time in doing homework, and I’ll show you a poorly educated kid.  Why bother to blame the teacher?  If a kid has negligent parents, what’s the teacher supposed to do?  Be a social worker also?

posted by: Nashstreeter on May 30, 2012  2:08am

Unfortunately, teaching is one of those professions that, like nursing, or journalism, has no professional ladder up: no matter how good you are, or how experienced or respected, the only path to promotion is toward a position that requires you to stop teaching, nursing or reporting and supervise the ones who do.

Because of this dynamic the salary rewards of actual teaching are based only on longevity—which is incremental, compared to the dramatic rise in pay that principals and superintendents command. To say nothing of what Arne Duncan makes. Or Randi Weingarten, for that matter. To get ahead in the job you love, you have to stop doing the job you love. That’s why teachers don’t get rich.

But, as Tamara Raiford implied, there are other rewards besides money—respect, control over your own work environment, access to resources sufficient to do your job well, a sense that you have improved your community. These rewards are often sadly lacking, especially in the test-driven, metrics-based, canned-curriculum, profit-centered environment that Arne Duncan’s Department of Education has done little to alleviate.

posted by: Nashstreeter on May 30, 2012  2:15am

And the parents? the students? How exactly do we “hold them accountable”? The students don’t do as they are told. The parents don’t adequately participate in their kids’ education. What shoud we do with them? Put them in the stocks? Flog them 50 times?

I think we have to think beyond individual behavior and our own personal models of what school and family life should be, to the various social forces that are at work. I’ll use an example from my own fourth grade a few decades ago—the weird kid, Phyllis. She was white (so there wasn’t a racial element to this story), and she always came to school dirty. Her clothes were dirty and she often had body odor (not that common with kids). She barely spoke in class and found a spot where she could be by herself at recess. She had no friends. For her, going to school every day must have been torture.

Now imagine Phyllis as a young mother, knocked up by a guy indifferent and long gone. Her child is in school. Do you think she is going to be an active, participating parent baking cookies for the library fund? Do you think she’s going to be quizzing her kid’s teachers on his progress and the curriculum? Do you think she’s going to want to have anything at all to do with school ever again?

In New Haven, we happily bus kids to schools clear to the other side of town. Even if Phyllis were interested in her child’s academic progress, what would it take for her to be at the school once or twice a month for teacher conferences, plays, basketball games, etc.? Well, it would mean that she might have to take off from work at her second job. She might have to hire or find a babysitter. She might have to have a working car or easy public transportation. She might have to fight off the fear and humiliation that she herself had experienced at school.

Teachers have a whole lot more than the pupil before them as their task.  We need to acknowledge that and figure out how to repair the social, economic and educational damage to previous generations that can interfere with the progress of current ones. And that will take more than just one well-meaning, highly-skilled teacher. It will take all of us.

posted by: Teacher in New Haven on May 30, 2012  6:07am

Its all well and good to complain about parents, teachers do it every day.  But when it comes down to it the government (Federal State and Local) in this country does not employ 3.5 million parents.  They employ 3.5 million teachers.  So it should come as no surprise that when the government wants to do something, like improve education, it looks to the resources it already has. 

We can complain all day about respect, and I am glad that Rosa is on our side.  But in the end we deserve only a little more respect than we get precisely because of a blame the parents mentality.  There are kids we can’t reach.  That is often the parent’s fault.  But every time we bring it up, it diminishes our standing.  No one would go to the auto mechanic who constantly blames the driver.

posted by: Wildwest on May 30, 2012  7:06am

First off, HUGE props to Tamara Raiford, if only teachers like her were rewarded somehow.

I agree with “Jacques Strap"s statement about bad parenting being the main problem. This is a problem all over the US, we should be trying to figure out what to do about this. I can say for sure that paying teenage girls to have babies is not the answer. All public schools should be equal, hearing about the tier 1/tier 2 thing makes me a little sick to my stomach.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on May 30, 2012  7:20am

“Teachers ‘too often get the lion’s share of the blame,’ agreed Rep. DeLauro. She said in order to improve the schools, ‘teachers voices need to be heard.’” How about parents’ voices, Rosa? We continue to follow an unworkable model:  massively regulating schools and evaluating teachers at the federal, state and city level. This type of bloated, expensive bureaucracy is quintessential Rosa DeLauro. If you want REAL school reform phase in school vouchers. This will put the power to evaluate where it belongs: with a student’s parents/guardians. If a school is not conducive to learning or if a teacher is ineffective the parent simply takes the voucher and applies it towards a better school.  Our current public education system is financially unsustainable. Vouchers would change this—dramatically.

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on May 30, 2012  7:25am

Please don’t blame the parents. Inequality is at fault.

posted by: Elaine in New Haven on May 30, 2012  1:08pm

I’m pleased to see that Tamara Raiford is being recognized as a very special teacher!  I had the pleasure of knowing her briefly while she was teaching at Davis.  She volunteered her time with the Parent-Teacher group at an event supporting reading and brought her son to the event with her.  She showed interest in reading materials from other cultures and actively worked with parents and the school administrators to educate parents regarding school testing/culture/expectations.  I often saw her at the school after school hours & she always seemed genuinely happy to be a teacher. I was sad to find her leaving Davis but she believed she could be of more service at the new school.  It seems apparent that Ms. Raiford continues to find fulfillment in teaching.  She is a special gift to the New Haven School System.

posted by: ohioteacher on May 30, 2012  5:51pm

People who are not in the field of education can look on all they want and judge. Until someone has stepped into a classroom, they will never understand the teaching profession.

With that said, I am two years out of school and a fully trained, licensed, educated teacher. I have been working PART-TIME trying to get my foot in the door to get a teaching job. If you know how little a full-time teacher makes, can you imagine my salary? Don’t bother… I would KILL to work at a low-performing school, I would kill to work at any school, but inner city schools are where I always pictured myself.

The problem is, nobody will give me the chance. I have been told I am amazing in interviews but do not have enough experience. I was advised NOT to get my Masters degree, but to just get a license instead so I did not cost districts too much money.

I have known my entire life that I wanted to be a teacher. Before I even thought about money, I ccouldn’tmagine myself doing anything else. It has NEVER been about what someone is willing to pay me to do my job. It has ALWAYS been about wanting to provide a good education to children.

I did some student teaching in an inner-city school in Columbus, Ohio and LOVED it. I would take a job in a low-performing school over a prize winning school any day of the week because the kids in the low-performing schools need good teachers more than anyone else. Those kids do not have support at home. Those kids have nobody to make sure they get their homework done, or even care if they don’t. Those kids need to be taught that drive that their parents aren’t there to teach them. Many of those parents are working multiple jobs to keep those kids in school, and those kids need love, routine, and guidance when they are in school, because often times they do not get it at home.

posted by: ohioteacher on May 30, 2012  5:54pm

Kids in low-performing schools don’t necessarily need teachers who come from high performing schools, they need teachers who want to be at low-performing schools. I am not saying I am in this for the money. It has never been about money for me, it has been about doing what I love and what I want to be doing. However, if districts want teachers to have as many years’ training as doctors do, they need to be compensated as doctors are. If they aren’t willing to do that, which we all know they aren’t, trust the system that is in place now. Hire young teachers and let them learn as they go, as most professions do. Let teachers work together collaboratively, and grow as a profession as they have been doing for years. It will fall into place, if the right teachers are put in the right place. Pick the teachers because they fit in the school, not because they fit the mold the school wants them to fit.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 31, 2012  9:06am

I have never seen anyone talk out of both sides of their mouth like Arne Duncan.His pro-corporate policies do the exact opposite of everything he says. Arne Duncan continues to make states and districts compete with each other for federal funding with the winners being those that are most willing to privatize and use high-stakes testing.How come none of these Teachers said to Arne Duncan why did you praised the mass firing of teachers in Central Falls Rhode Island and called Hurricane Katrina the best thing that had happened to education in New Orleans” because it allowed local officials to replace public schools with charter schools.How come these teachers didn’t speak about the relentless testing that is invading and taking over America’s classrooms.Looks to me that these teachers were mind control to give questions and answer that the panel want to hear.

If you Want to Save America’s Public Schools: Replace Secretary of
Education Arne Duncan With a Lifetime Educator.


posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on May 31, 2012  9:55am

Threefifths: great questions. Find me on fb. I have answers.

posted by: BronxTeacher on June 2, 2012  9:04pm

I have been teaching in a school in the South Bronx that last year became a turnaround school. We consistently have a high staff turnover. This year I anticipate it will be worse.
In study after study the most significant factor that affects where someone teaches or how long they continue teaching is WORKING CONDITIONS.
It helps to be trained well and paid well, but if you don’t feel supported and valued it makes it hard to justify working there. In schools like mine teachers work very very hard. They often are asked to do more with less and constantly asked to be heros (many of them are!). Those who try to be heroic every day end up burning out…. besides, you just can’t build a system on heros!

posted by: Blue on June 5, 2012  3:41pm

What a joke!

Ask Reggie Mayo why there are some principals in this city with less than 8 years of classroom teaching experience.

Knowing the curriculum and latest theories is one thing.  Leading from practical experience with the ability to galvanize a staff is quite another.