ANNOUNCER: This is an MSNBC special presentation, EDUCATION NATION, a TEACHER TOWN HALL, from learning plaza in Rockefeller Center, here is Brian Williams.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Good afternoon, and welcome to our TEACHER TOWN HALL.
You may recognize our surroundings. We are normally down on the skating rink where most visitors to New York know this location. And what we're about to do is, first, as far as we know, two hours on national television, to talk with teachers about teaching. About their business, about their calling. This is the start of an entire week of programming, as we hope you know, dedicated to talking about what needs to be done to help improve education in America.
In this room, we have created, again, where you are used to seeing the ice rink at Rockefeller Center, we have created a place where we can, if we're not careful, have real conversations. We'll have teachers and principals and parents and students and business and labor and political leaders.
And then just outside us here, there's an exhibition of some of the latest techniques and approaches to help all of our kids learn.
But we start today, and for the next two hours, with the key piece of this puzzle, teachers. All of us have a teacher or preferably teachers in our lives who helped shape our lives, helped us to find a way.
And so we have gathered a large group of teachers here with us at Rockefeller Center. We've invited teachers across the country to join us online. My colleague, Rehema Ellis, our NBC news education correspondent, is in our sky suite here to bring us online teacher conversations into our conversation here today. Rehema, it's great to have you with us.
REHEMA ELLIS: Thanks so much, Brian.
We're very interested in getting teachers all across this country into this conversation. And if you're watching right now and you are a teacher, please go to educationnation.com and register to participate. You'll be able to join the special online chat where you can contribute your thoughts, ask questions, and even respond to some questions we'll put back to you.
Also, if you're on Facebook, you can join the conversation at our Education Nation page. Also, on Twitter, or text the word teach and your thoughts to 622639.
And finally, send e-mail to us at educationnationaultnbcuni.com. I'll make sure you get into the conversation right here. Brian?
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Hi there. I'm just greeting our guests as they arrive onstage, trying to be a good host. Our other friend, Tamron Hall, is here in the audience. And her role – there you are, Tamron.
TAMRON HALL: Here I am, Brian.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Hard to see out in the audience. Her roll is going to be --
HALL ; I think I have the best seat in the house, because I am with the people on the front line. These are teachers from across the country, educators like my own mother. So I know teachers can really ask the tough questions and we must hear from these ladies and gentlemen to find the solution to the problem.
So you can't be afraid if you're in this audience. If you are, you probably need to leave now. Anybody? I don't think any of them are worried.
Where are you from?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm from Middletown, Connecticut.
HALL: And how about you, ma'am?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chicago, Illinois.
HALL: My old home town. My old stomping ground, Brian.
So we're going to hear from the people in this audience. I will be looking out for those of you who are nodding, who are raising your fist or doing whatever you'd like, because we want to be able to hear from you.
Now back to you, Brian.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: All right, Tamron, thanks. And we'll go back to you often in the audience.
As I just told members of the audience before we came on the air and on the web, we truly want this to be every inch a town hall by, for and about teachers. And I am joined on stage by three teachers. This entire crowd is made up of teachers to help us along in this conversation. Monica Groves is the dean at Kip Vision Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. Welcome to you. Steven Lazar, an 11th grade English teacher at the Bronx Lab here in New York City. Steven, welcome to you. And Bonny Breeze teaches 12th grade and honors English at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Welcome.
BONNY BREEZE: Thank you.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: We thought we would start this by telling a story that involves one of our three guests here on stage and may help us talk about teaching as a calling.
Four years ago, our NBC news cameras in a documentary we hope you saw followed Miss Groves in her first few months as a teacher. It was a journey that a lot of you in this room will be able to relate to.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MONICA GROVES: Ms. Groves. Ms. Groves.
I've never before felt this strongly about something. I'm extremely excited about meeting my students. And I haven't met them yet, but I already love them.
My name is Ms. Groves welcome to 6th grade. If you're going to be responsible, say I do.
CLASS: I do.
GROVES: I do.
If you're going to be eager to learn, say I do.
CLASS: I do.
GROES: Raise your hand if you don't have your homework today. I want you to raise your hand.
This is ridiculous.
I didn't expect it to feel like such a fight, such a struggle.
When I say something or you think that's optional? It's not optional.
You have detention. You have detention.
And you know I am not having it anymore. Every day, the same thing, the constant talking, close your mouth!
Every day I come in, and it's like you have to kind of attack the day.
Now, get the talking under control.
Either you attack the day or it attacks you. And it beats you down.
I love my kids. And a lot of the stress that I go through is me wanting to make sure I'm giving them everything they need, and me wanting to make sure that I'm stepping it up for them. And that creates a lot of stress, you know?
I have to tell you, sometimes it's very difficult when you're getting frustrated. I go home and I feel very guilty that I may have raised my voice a little bit, or that I was very direct with a student.
THOMAS KENNEDY: I raise my voice. I'm very direct at times. They need to know, okay, where is my line. If I draw this line, this is the line. You have to consistently reinforce it. If raising your voice is not something that you're comfortable with, you've got to find a different way.
GROVES: My goal is to not raise my voice once to you. Not once. Okay? So you won't hear my voice get louder. If you can do that one thing for me. Listen more than you talk.
This is everything to me, making sure that my kids have an education, and that I'm pushing them to recognize the greatness within themselves. Like this is my mission, this my goal. And that's personal. But also sometimes my anger is personal, my frustration is personal. When I'm tired it's personal. You know, like everything is personal. And I have to remove some of that. It's too personal.
Teachers don't give grades, you earn them. And so you need to set a goal.
Change needs to be made, but you can change it. See it, think it, and then you will do it. So you have eight weeks to make it happen.
I realized the first semester the kids knew, oh, if we kind of just do this and get disruptive the whole lesson is going to stop and Ms. Groves is just going to talk about behaving. You know, like the kids knew that. So when they know that you either are going to have to keep up or you're going to fall behind, they're more motivated to keep up.
This is from last week. It's like I just want to, you know, show you that they did so well. Like if you look at these grades, you know, they're getting 100s, 90, 100, 100.
It was a huge moment, because I needed the validation. I need some type of progress. And that's the thing that's beautiful about this whole experience, that there has been. It may not be when you thought it was going to come. It may not have been when you wanted it, but it happened.
This whole experience from beginning to end has been like a mirror, up to my face. And I've seen how flawed I am. I've seen how much work I need. And I was just humbled by it all, because it's difficult, and I wasn't able to be what I know I hope to be some day. But I'm working on it.
I am a teacher. I wonder if my best is enough. I hear my students' feet and I am proud. I see my students grow, and I am proud. I touch young minds every day. I worry about those young minds every day. I cry when I realize how lucky I am, for I am a teacher.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, on behalf of every child that's ever needed to be taught, and all of your fellow teachers here, thank you, and congratulations.
What's the journey been like?
GROVES: It has been really rewarding. And it's still happening. I feel like I go through, still, just as many aha moments as I did the first year, even five, six years out, because it doesn't stop. You have to continue to, you know, think about how you can be better every single day, because we're in the business where there's always going to be something to improve upon.
So it's been really eye-opening.
WILLIAMS: And how do you look at teaching today compared to your rookie year?
GROVES: You know, I do think that having more experience has allowed me to sort of throw myself in and even enjoy it that much more. So you would think that with every year, you would feel like you have less to work on. But for me, it's the exact opposite. It's been -- the list is long all the time of what I want to do better, what I hope to do better. So the challenge doesn't go away.
But I do think that you start to understand what you want to prioritize and you're able to pick up on the highlights more and more.
WILLIAMS: See, that's just raw. That's passion. That's loving what you do, not being able to imagine doing anything else. And that part of the equation is often not in education studies. Because it doesn't nicely lend itself to any number or category.
Tamron Hall out in the audience has a guest.
HALL: Brian, we're only a few minutes into this and already you're crying. Why?
What's your name first?
FELICIA IRICH: My name if Felicia Irich (ph). I'm a principal in Baltimore. What I saw was passion. As a principal, you can't give that to someone. So when we look at how we support teachers, it's those teachers that come to us who are passionate about what they do, they make it happen. They make it happen because they believe in our students. They truly work.
And I just admire you. And I'm just in awe. Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Wow. That's outstanding.
WILLIAMS: Steven, what part of that, as a history teacher -- I stand corrected -- what part of that resonated as you were watching, or perhaps all it?
STEVEN LAZAR: I've seen that experience with a lot of my colleagues over the past few years. I was very lucky in that I went to a wonderful teacher training program. I got to student teach. I was observed. So I had a pretty good idea of what I was doing when I started in the classroom.
But what I've seen in working with my colleagues as a coach these past few years, is we have teachers who want to be wonderful teachers. They love their kids, but they don't quite know how to do it. And unfortunately our schools are set up in a way so they don't get a lot of support in their first few years.
In my first summer teaching, I was observed every day for three hours and got an hour of feedback. It takes my colleagues six years to get that much feedback in the New York City Public Schools.
So I've seen these teachers, like my colleague over here who wanted to be good and they want that feedback, but they're not always able to get it.
WILLIAMS: And Bonny, do you feel you know a good teacher, a good fellow teacher right off? Or is there always that process?
BREEZE: Oh, I know plenty of good, fellow teachers. However, I do feel like teaching is a calling. And once you show up at the door, you know if in fact you belong.
I was explaining to Steve and Monica in the back that by the time I came into teaching full-time, I already had gray hairs showing up. So it took me a long time. So I'm a back door teacher. I always had my certification, but I did not use it for a very long time. And I found that I was doing summer school, and substitute teaching in the meantime, and in the between time, so I figured I need to do it full-time. And I am there.
And I got teary eyed listening to Monica, too, because I always tell people, I love what I do.
WILLIAMS: See, that's the kind of teacher we need. And I was lucky to have.
I heard someone describe teaching as the gray-haired development program.
So let's turn that into a positive. We are at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. And we're going to take a break and come back and talk about teaching for the next couple of hours.
When we return, we're going to talk about recruitment. We're going to talk about retention, and how we value our nation's educators, when our TEACHER TOWN HALL returns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The nice thing about being a teacher is getting your kids to realize the things that they can achieve.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love what I do. O love my students.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The teacher's job is not just to teach math and reading and writing, a teacher's job is to really change and influence a child's life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: We are back.
We're actually having this conversation just above what would normally be the surface of the ice. The famous rink here at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
We're in a tent. We only have a couple of hundred teachers who we could fit in here on a Sunday at 12:00 noon New York time. But here's the sneaky way we get around this and involve thousands of teachers around the country. We've asked everybody to join us on the web.
And here at the conference, and here at the TEACHER TOWN HALL, our NBC News education correspondent Rehema Ellis is watching all the comments that come in.
Rehema, I understand the wires are burning up already, right?
ELLIS: Brian, it is buzzing up here in terms of what's happening on the computer and what I'm getting on my Blackberry. One of the things we're hearing, very quickly, teachers are saying stress and burnout two top factors in leading to retention problems.
Also listen to this coming from a teacher, her name is Sue from Ohio, she says, we need to better prepare entry level teachers, and in turn they will be able to share their ideas with their mentors. One year of mentoring, peer coaching is not enough."
Michael McDonahue from Utah says "first-year teachers need good mentoring."
So it's a common theme.
Kathleen from New York City says, "as I read the comments, there is a definite thread across what teachers say, lack of resources, lack of support, need small class size."
Just some of the comments we're hearing. More than 6,000 teachers are online chatting with us.
WILLIAMS: All right, Rehema Ellis just above us here.
And at the outset I wanted to say something very important. I wanted to dedicate today, I'm the recipient of great teachers. As I hope, and we said, as I hope everyone is.
People with names like Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Delfino, Bob Kitsen, Jack Needle, Carl Calendar, all people who caught me when I was going to fall. All people who taught me to read, taught me to read good and interesting things.
And isn't that the common denominator. We all know that list of names mentally. And some of those names, some of those teachers are with us here today.
The question, as we talk about recruitment, retention, our teachers, do you feel, under attack right now?
Tamron Hall has a microphone in the crowd. Somebody rise up and tell --oh, there's the first. Oh, boy. All right.
HALL: The two of you are side by side. Stand up and tell me -- the whole row wants in on this.
Tell me what you think.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I definitely think teachers are under attack.
They're able to put things on TV. We don't have those financial resources that some of these other people do to put out those attack things.
We are in a classroom to do our job. We are in a classroom to educate our students and we don't have the right to pick and choose who will be sitting in our classroom. We must educate every child that walks into our room. There is no self-selecting process, that I only want the nice kids who sit in my room.
You know, there is no -- we're all sitting there reading the newspaper at some movie scene to portray that that's all we do.
HALL: And what about you, ma'am?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very important to find a teacher that's willing to eat, sleep and breathe teaching. This is our job. We're responsible for educating these children from the time they're 2, 3 years old until they go to college. It's up to us, and we need to weed out those teachers who are not willing to do that. And bring in the ones that are and just fight until the very end. Because it's really on us. It's on us.
I'm a New York City teacher. I teach in Queens in a title one school. It's tough out there. It is tough. And if you're not willing to do the work, you're not willing to put in the hours, then this is not the career for you.
These are our babies, and we need to start when they're babies and bring them all the way up. And it's our job.
WILLIAMS: Tamron, you had the first hand I saw in the crowd there on the other side.
HALL: And your thoughts on that question? Are teachers under attack?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe teachers are under attack. I'm an educator in Newark. Teachers should be under attack. You should be held accountable to what you're teaching. You don't get in the teaching field to make lucrative amounts of money. You come into the teaching field to be a good teacher and fill the minds of the students in the country.
So yes, are we under attack? Yes, we are, and we should be. And you should be held accountable. And a good influence inside the classroom.
HALL: Brian, there are so many hands up. And I see a couple of people making their way, since I'm standing here, with a row of teachers. Would you like to take a shot at that tough question? Here you are. And what is your thought?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My thought is that, thinking about teachers being under attack, I think of it in a different way of everything we're up against.
So, thinking about the fact that so many people outside of teaching don't really understand what the job is. There's so little value on teaching and teachers, and I think that we face that every single day. And it makes the job so frustrating despite all of our passion, like Ms. Groves said, because we can't explain it unless you're in the classroom.
So when people make decisions for us regarding policy or funding who don't understand, what are we supposed to do?
WILLIAMS: Tamron, I have a very anxious questioner at microphone one --
Go ahead please.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Teachers, teachers are under attack and that’s because we have a very public face. And we are considered the target for every ill that society faces. I read an article in the Times yesterday saying that we as Americans are not eating our vegetables.
And what was a suggested course of action. Grow gardens in schools. We know that kids are a wonderful malleable resource. And to get to society at large we reach children. But teachers cannot fix every problem. Try as we do
And as responsible as we feel for every problem we can’t fix them all. So we are under attack.
WILLIAMS: Are you pro or anti-vegetable? Let’s get this out.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I eat at least five a day my class sees me eat my carrots and my salad every day.
WILLIAMS: Excellent, excellent.
Microphone two. We have a guest over here on the other side. Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Hi. I have an issue with the world attack. I really feel like as a professional I don’t need to be attacked. I need to be – I need to be supported. I need feedback, wonderful feedback. That’s the only way we’re going to grow.
And I think that places where teachers feel safe to work. Places where teachers feel their voices are heard are great places to learn. And that’s what I want for my child and that’s what I think as the teachers do we want for all our children in our classrooms.
Passion isn’t enough. Criticism isn’t enough. The support needs to be there.
WILLIAMS: Well let me ask you then an intentionally incendiary devil’s advocate question. This has to do with all of our occupations. I see people who I think probably shouldn’t be in our line of work. We’re all professionals we feel protective about the way we make a living.
Same question to you. What about the folks who just shouldn’t be there?
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I think the best – my worst critics are my colleagues. They’re my colleagues. They’re the people that hold me accountable every day for what I do. And I think until the teachers voice isn’t on that panel right now we’re being shut out of that.
And I think that when we get together as teachers and we put up our norms and our standards. Just like the medical field, just like I’m sure in your field.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: You, in your place of work you hold the people around you accountable. We’re not scared of accountability, but the word attack is negative. The attack doesn’t suggest positive outcome. And what we need is for our voices to be at that table.
WILLIAMS: Final question. Pro or anti-vegetable?
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Pro vegetable.
WILLIAMS: All right fantastic. We’re going to take a little break. Obviously, we have more than enough to discuss when we come back and continue from EDUCATION NATION in New York.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back were on the famous rink at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York as EDUCATION NATION this several day gathering gets kicked off, here and now with what we’re calling the TEACHER TOWN HALL.
We’ve already mixed it up. Thousands of you watching at home and dialed into us online, on MSNBC and on MSNBC.com. Rehema Ellis watching some of the email traffic above us -- Rehema.
ELLIS: Brian we got a Tsunami of traffic coming in our site. People are really fired up about this. Listen to what’s coming in here from one teacher and she says that "lots of teachers are online saying I love my job but I’m just burned out."
Schenatra (ph) from Augusta, Georgia says I absolutely love what I do yet the reality remains that the ways in which teachers are vilified in communities on the news etcetera definitely weighs heavily on me.
And one more comment. Linda from South Carolina says, "Yes teachers are on the front line to be attached. We are the ones who are doing the work in the tent – in the trenches." They’re fired up. They’re feeling this attack that’s coming their way. Brian?
WILLIAMS: Yes, no kidding. You should see the line of people at the microphones down here on the floor.
Thank you, Rehema.
And look you know there is an elephant in this room and its being screened at this conference tonight and it’s about to go wide as they say in the film business.
And it’s not just one thing but a new documentary by Davis Guggenheim the man who made the film that busted open the environmental argument an inconvenient truth, is called "Waiting for Superman."
And you can already see in our media. Even though very few American’s in the larger audience have seen the film that it’s starting to affect the conversation. Because of timing it comes along at a time when education is now kind of the space program in this country. It’s getting a lot of attention.
It’s getting a lot of money. Embedded in the film is this statistics from the state of Illinois, one in 57 doctors losing their medical licenses? One in 97 attorneys loses their law licenses. One in 2500 teachers lose their credentials.
Steven this is part of the atmosphere regarding your profession and your calling.
STEVEN LAZAR: So I’ll be perfectly honest. I, the main reason I wanted to become a teacher is because I thought I could do a better job than what I thought were the bad teachers at the high school I went to in Ohio.
But what I found in six year in the classroom is I’ve yet to come across one of those teachers.
I’m sure they’re there but one of the things we keep in mind as you mention we’ve all had wonderful teachers who did wonderful things for us. All of us also had teachers we thought we horrible teachers.
And I think the challenge is, first we don’t agree on what a good teacher is. I got to see "Waiting for Superman" yesterday. And they talk about good teaching makes a difference; good teaching makes a difference without having any conversation about what that means.
So what I found and I’m going to be beating a dead horse here. We have all these wonderful people who want to work hard, who want to do right by their kids. But they need support to be able to do that.
WILLIAMS: OK. To the microphones we go. Microphone one please.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Hi, I’m a social studies teacher at a middle school in Brooklyn were I went to public school my entire life. And I do believe teachers should be held accountable, however, there are more pieces to the puzzle than just teachers.
Parents (INAUDIBLE) kinds home to do their class – their homework or reading or whatever assignments there is and then they don’t do it. They don’t have the support services for after school programs because the budget is being cut.
The Department of Education in New York City has reorganized four separate times. So clearly there’s no real stability there. It’s very difficult for teachers who you know work hard every single day to you know go to a place where they feel like they’re not really being supported either by you know the administration or the parent of their kids.
Not to say that my parents – the parents of my kids don’t love them but I have 180 students. I see them four times a week and I’m supposed to teach them reconstruction through Modern Day American History. That’s a lot of material to cover without any supplemental assistance.
So it would really be nice if it was recognized that it’s not just teachers. It’s everyone working together in the community that makes schools work to the best that they possibly can.
WILLIAMS: OK. Tamron Hall where are you? Tamron?
HALL: I’m over here Brian.
HALL: I’ve got George Burroughs he’s from Montclair, New Jersey. And George you want to tough on this?
GEORGE BURROUGHS: Yes thank you. Steve mentions what it makes to be a good teacher. And Monica showed us that you need a lot of passion. And passion is very important. Brian talked about it. But for anyone who has taught in a classroom knows that passion is not going to cut it. You won’t last one day with just passion.
What teachers need is a host of schools. You need to be able to handle classroom management is one thing. You also need to be able to teach. (INAUDIBLE) is very important. You also have to have expertise in content knowledge, which is essential in order to communicate to the students.
And I don’t think that people who don’t teach, who aren’t in the classroom really understand all the qualities that you need to be able to think your feet and to do the things to handle parents, to deal with administration, to deal with the crisis that happens on a daily basis in many schools.
So when we talk about teachers not being appreciated I think it’s because people don’t really understand what it is that we do in the classroom on a daily basis dealing with children and their issue and their concerns.
HALL: A lot of heads nodding over here Brian in reaction to that.
WILLIAMS: Right here is the microphone.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I’m a high school teacher from Glenrock High School in New Jersey and in the state of New Jersey education is clearly under attack. Our governor is trying to cut our budget and has cut our local budget even though we’re a success – excuse a successful school.
So I’m more worried. Education is expensive. The top 25 percent of students in India out number our total population of students in the United States. And we have to as a nation admit that education is expensive and commit to continuing putting more resources in, instead of taking them out.
WILLIAMS: Over here to microphone one.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Thank you. I teach at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey. And yes teachers are under attack. We’re not only under attack we’re made the scapegoats for much, much larger ills of society that we have to cope with every day at our classrooms.
The census is out. One in every seven Americans is living below the poverty line. And that poverty line is defined as $22,000 a year for a family of four. Which means if you make $23,000 you’re not even counted in that statistic, so it’s really much larger than one in every seven kids?
WILLIAMS: And by the way tell everybody our shared secret.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: OK. Well you mentioned before that one of your favorite teachers was Jack Needle and he was one of my teachers to at Red Bank High School…
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: …when I went to high school there. So and he was the one – is a wonderful teacher.
WILLIAMS: A game changer.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: So hello Mr. Needle if you’re watching.
WILLIAMS: Professor Needle to you.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Professor Needle now. He was just a young Mr. Needle when I had in the Stone Age but. The other thing I wanted to say was that we’re attacked from both the left and right.
Right on the right with Chris Christy and my state were greedy. We had our pensions are to big our, he’s cutting -- wants to cut all of our benefits. And on the right, on the left you have people like David Guggenheim who I’m calling the Lenny Riefenstahl of 2010 by the way.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Yes. Because I feel his film is complete propaganda. Where was Diane Ravitch in his film? My goodness she would have been a fabulous person to have had in that film.
But were being attached from all sides when in fact the problem is poverty; we have too many kids who come to us with such intractable problems. And I think one of the great things that charter schools could do instead of taking the kids who are a motivated and whose parents want them to be there which is what you see in "Waiting for Superman" and you know the crying.
Of course you want your child to have the best school. Put the kids in the charter schools who need all that tender loving care, who need small schools -- small class sizes. Who need mental health services, who need health care. That's what our charter schools should be doing.
WILLIAMS: Point taken. My friend from New Jersey.
WILLIAMS: We've got to pay for all of this. One more break. I've got a guy who's going to jump out of his clothing in the front row until we get to him. We'll come back. We'll continue. My thanks to our guests here on the stage. When EDUCATION NATION continues from New York.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's lots of families out there that are running their lives on less money than they used to have. Everyone is. We've got to figure out how to do just as good a job as we did before with less money than we had before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: We are back. This is EDUCATION NATION. TEACHER TOWN HALL in New York City on a Sunday afternoon. And here's what's clear. We could take the airwaves right now and stay on live, go through dinner hour tonight, overnight, into the "TODAY" show. I promise you, every one of the teachers in this tent would stay here if they had the opportunity to speak. We've got teachers and parents --
WILLIAMS: I feel in about this much physical danger because I can see the people in the front row and you at home can't. People are – are -- are engaged. Let's use the polite word for it.
To the teachers here in the hall, my colleague from -- my great home state of New Jersey, took a lot of time to make her point. She took about six or seven teachers' worth of time. So, when we go to the mikes, be brief. Those watching at home and e-mailing us, Rehema Ellis is reading your comments on the air. But similarly, be brief.
I want to raise the curtain on a topic we touched on in the segment before this, and that's low-income schools. 40.9 percent, I think, is the stat of schools in this country are considered -- there it is, 40.9 percent, U.S. students are considered low-income.
And joining me on stage, Tim Bailey. Eighth-grade teacher, U.S. history, at a Title One low-income school, Salt Lake City, Utah. First in his family not to graduate from college, but the first to graduate from high school. That's a great stat.
He's been a teacher for 21 years. '09 National History Teacher of the Year. Also –
WILLIAMS: Also with us is Beth Prince, kindergarten teacher, Hurst Elementary, Washington, D.C. 20-year veteran.
WILLIAMS: Twenty-year veteran, ten of them at the kindergarten level. So, I guess the question is, Tim, what are the special challenges, and what have your lessons from the trenches been?
TIM BAILEY, EIGHTH-GRADE U.S. HISTORY TEACHER, SALT LAKE CITY: Well, I think that one of the things that I brought out of the Title One schools is that the income level doesn't affect the intelligence level. Just because –
BAILEY: I’ve always -- before I moved to eighth grade, I taught fourth- and fifth grade my entire career. And my thinking was always, just because a child reads on a first-grade level doesn't mean they don't think on a fifth-grade level. And to teach them those skills to be able to read on that fifth-grade level but to approach them as a fifth-grader. To talk to them about the things that you would to any fifth-grader, no matter what their reading level was.
And just because a student may be behind in an academic area does not mean they're behind in an intellectual area, or an emotional level.
WILLIAMS: And Beth, your school systems, I recall it's been in the news a little bit lately.
BETH PRINCE: Yes, a little bit.
WILLIAMS: Tell us about your experience. And what you want to say to your colleagues here and those people watching at home.
PRINCE: Well, I agree with Tim wholeheartedly that our school is unique in that we get children from all over the city. And because the parents in our lower-income neighborhoods are finding that the schools in that area just aren't serving their needs or are in a position to give their students the education that they need at this time. So, they've been in lotteries and things that we've seen to get in schools like ours.
And really, we have found exactly these children that come from these lower-income neighborhoods have achieved on astronomical levels. Just because we have --
PRINCE: There's a belief system there. We make sure through spending our own money, that we make sure they have the resources that they need there. I myself spend about $1,000 a year just to get things in the classroom so they have the things that they need.
WILLIAMS: And if more parents understood that, that comment is so common from snacks to pens to glue to glue sticks, on and on.
Tamron, it's the gentleman in the front row here who's going to hurt me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I see! He’s going to hurt both of us here --
WILLIAMS: If we don't get to him. Can you come on down and join him with the microphone?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I can --
WILLIAMS: He's going to hurt me if we don't talk to him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He’s even introduced himself to me. His name is Jeff Rosern (ph) from Long Island, New York. So, I know his name before --
WILLIAMS: It’s just like aerobics to him. The guy's worked up a sweat. Go ahead, sir.
JEFF ROSERN: I am Jeff Rosern (ph), and I teach in (INAUDIBLE) in a spectacularly effective school district with wonderful teachers. And it doesn't mean we're not equally concerned about children of poverty, because frankly, no one succeeds if everyone doesn't succeed. If every child doesn't learn, no child is learning. We're all in this together.
But I did want to raise the other 800-pound gorilla in the room because people in the classroom could not do their job if it were not for their protection under tenure. People don’t – People don’t understand that it’s what allows us to stand up to principals who want to make simple solutions to complex problems. It's what permits us to speak back, even against parents who don't necessarily want to do the right thing. It's the thing that keeps us from having to simply volunteer every time the principal says jump.
If there's a problem with it, it's because the public doesn't understand it, and they're attacking our institution of protection as a way of attacking us and our opinion. It's a due process system. If it's flawed, let's fix the system with keeping the protections and let's simplify the cost factor, but let's not put teachers in a situation where they simply have to do what they're told. We're not like business people. We don't serve entirely at the interest of our business, we serve entirely at the interest of the children.
WILLIAMS: All right. Thank you very much, sir.
WILLIAMS: Microphone one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Williams, the issue of accountability was raised, and I don't think there's anyone in this room who doesn't feel we shouldn't be held accountable for what we do. Accountability, however, has become a national education reform buzzword that's used by some of our state and national leaders, and it equates to standardized testing and punishment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How should your be judged?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll give you an example of the school in which I work. It's an urban classified school district in Rhode Island. The teachers I work with collaborate daily and weekly in professional learning communities to develop rich, authentic programs for low-income and poverty children so they can enjoy learning and develop and innate desire to learn.
Instead now, many teachers feel they need to abandon that practice so that they can focus on standardized test prep. They're teaching kids how to select from a series of multiple-choice questions, if you're not sure of the answer, here's the best way to eliminate poor solutions and this is the correct bubble you should probably fill in. That's what we're being forced to do now, because we're being told, if scores don't rise, we're probably going to lose our jobs.
WILLIAMS: Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. We are here from Success Charter Network, a public charter school network here in New York City.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- serving predominantly low-income students in Harlem and the Bronx. And we would like to clear up a misconception of charter schools that come around.
WILLIAMS: Quickly, please.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So we -- our students enter through a random lottery. We serve the same public school students as our zoned co-located schools. They are the same level poverty, the same level of education of their parents, and we do not have lower class sizes. My class of kindergarteners is -- I have 30 kindergarteners. And I will make games with my 30 kindergarteners because I work hard. I am dedicated. I have the professional development that I need in my school.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that's what we were going to talk about a little bit, is just that kind of that -- everyone here wants to be accountable for what they're doing and the way to do that is ask for help and actually receive the help that you're asking for. And that's --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And our school I feel like can really be a model for what everyone's asking for, because we have the professional development, the leadership support and the resources to be held to those standards that our school expects from us.
WILLIAMS: OK. Thank you the three of you.
Beth, take that on.
PRINCE: I think it's a holistic approach to monitoring teacher progress. I think the testing is one part of it, but it should definitely not be 50 percent. You can work extremely hard with your students all year long and maybe they have a bad test day and your scores and theirs all crash.
In terms of my feelings -- as an early childhood educator, that's where I feel like as a nation we could make the most impact -- really working with early childhood education. If you work with parents from birth, on nutrition, reading to your children. When your child is out in the store with them, not telling them to quiet down, but saying, this is a tomato and it's red. I mean, there are studies that have been done that your middle to high-income families speak over 40,000 words to their children before age three.
And that is where your gap is beginning, and I think if we really as a nation have common standards from pre-K through 3rd, that everybody --
PRINCE: -- I can call someone in California and say, OK, what strategy are you using this week to work on this particular standard. Then, we could make sure that every student in every state in every city is receiving the same amount of education in the core base knowledge.
WILLIAMS: If I hadn't had Mrs. Miller, I would have fallen hard for you as a kindergarten teacher.
We're going to take a break and come back, we get our arms on these topics emerging in the audience, the TEACHER TOWN HALL kicking off EDUCATION NATION continues from New York City, New York.
WILLIAMS: We are back. And it's just a beehive, it's a cauldron of activity and tension and emotion.
We're here on the rink at 30 Rock. We should reference, this is not a papier-mache depiction. This guy is usually -- the fountain is usually on. None of us have seen Prometheus here without the fountains.
But that's where we are. We are below grade, below ground level in a tent. There he is, perhaps not a family pose for a Sunday afternoon, but he's appropriately swaddled.
We have hundreds of teachers here with us. We have thousands of teachers at home talking. And the elephants in this room are just walking, mingling around with us. Elephants like charter schools.
As I said earlier, this movie "Waiting For Superman" is not what this conference is about, but it's going to be a subplot of this conference, because for the first time in my lifetime, Americans are going to be seeing a documentary about education at their Cineplex. Maybe even perhaps because they can't get in to see their first film of choice starring Sylvester Stallone. They're going to see a movie starring actual American children and the people we ask to educate our children.
And this debate's going to come up. It's a debate about funding and unions and charter schools, and if we don’t' kick off the conversation here with the actual teachers we've asked to join us, it's going to start without us anyway.
Up to Rehema Ellis we go. Rehema, what are -- well, I hesitate to ask you what folks are saying, but can you give us a small representation?
ELLIS: One of the things that I heard this week is that people are saying that while folks are upset with “Waiting for Superman,” nobody has yet said that the information contained in the movie is not true.
Another person said she is sitting -- Mary Sy (ph) has said she is sitting in tears because we're talking about her kids. She said they live in poverty. They eat poorly. They dress poorly. And she will not allow them to get a poor education.
One other person said, we get to talk about something else, education is expensive. But consider ignorance. Bryan?
WILLIAMS: All right. I’m going to throw something under the bus and introduce another new topic that we've got to get to here today by way of a piece of videotape prepared by our friend Tamron Hall, who’s our floor correspondent here today.
It is about something that a leading educator has called the only thing we've actually come to know, the only thing we've actually found out from all the educational research ever been done. And it's called “Summer Slide.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAMRON HALL: The critical summer months when school is out and children don't have many places to go. Some students make stride while others fall behind.
RON FAIRCHILD: By the time kids get to fifth grade, low-income kids are close to two years behind their more affluent peers just because of differences in summer learning opportunities.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Tamron, I want you to talk about this hopefully with someone from the audience because so many people have said this is so fixable. There's so many programs aimed right at it.
HALL: Yes. And this gentleman here would like to speak on that. What's your name and where are you from?
MARK FONTAINE: My name is Mark Fontaine. I teach at Times Square Academy, which is an inner city public charter high school in Providence. And my big thing with kids I think as an inner city teacher is our kids believe, as all kids do, the reality they live is the reality of the world.
So a big part of our job as inner city teachers is to show them there are opportunities.
HALL: How do you do that?
FONTAINE: A lot of it is just by living it. For example, I have, when I started -- two years ago at the school, I had a young girl who was doing poorly and I finally talked to her about it. And it was because her day consisted of leaving school, picking up her younger siblings, making them dinner, getting them tucked into bed, and she was starting her homework at 10:00 at night.
One of the options I told her was pick up your siblings, come back to my room. You do your homework while they do their homework. Now you have a place. Now that gives her an option.
Part of it means, on my point, you know the kids know they can come to my room at 7:00 in the morning, I’m there. Any time until 7:00 at night when they throw me out, I’m there. That’s a lot -- especially in the inner city. You don't become a public schoolteacher to make money. You become a public schoolteacher because your kids need you.
One of the things you can do being involved in the conference, it’s a great opportunity, but it's killing me that I’m missing my kids tomorrow at school. We need to be there for them and show them the options.
WILLIAMS: All right. Thank you.
HALL: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: I’d say one of our motivations having this on Sunday, though a lot of folks have to travel back and forth. We have an educator from Florida, microphone two. Yes?
KELLY BURNETT, NASSAU COUNTY TEACHER: Hi. My name is Kelly Burnett. I’m from Nassau County. And our county is exceptionally interesting because we have a very affluent one area and then the area where I’m teaching is lower socioeconomics. And I'm very, very rural.
My concern here is that a lot of the talk and a lot of the agendas have been really targeted towards more urban areas.
BURNETT: And pushing the charter schools or other programs in concerted efforts to the charter school districts.
Charter schools would not be an option in our area because we're so far away from everything else. So our -- we have a struggle of trying to actively recruit and retain, you know, the teachers in the areas that are high areas such as the sciences and the math areas.
But we also are having an issue of -- we're seeing generational jobs that are being lost. We’re seeing families who thought that their child would go into the same careers that their grandfather and father's gone into. But in sense now those careers are not there.
So for the first time we are looking at a paradigm shift within our community. But because of logistics where we are located, it's very, very hard. We're trying to bring in dual enrollment classes within our schools which is introducing our students to, you know, college programs a little early.
We're also trying to effectively get AP classes in. But this is so difficult, because, again, funding, getting the teachers certified, getting them credential to do these activities and do these extra classes, you know, in a rural area where, you know, the nearest Wal-Mart I’ve told people, you know, is anywhere from 30 to 50 miles depending on where the kids live.
WILLIAMS: Right. Thank you very much for that.
And Tim, you were making this point in the break. You know, some people are going to come away from this discussion, this film, again, saying, why can't we raise the level of everything? Why is the debate just about this?
TIM BAILEY, 5TH GRADE U.S. HISTORY, SALT LAKE CITY: Well, I think that one of the problems that we have is that some people are going to look at this as charter schools as a silver bullet. This is the way to go. This is how to solve all of the problems.
One of the things I came out of the film with was that in a certain setting they were saying, OK, this school is being successful. We're giving a tutor to every student that reads below great level.
Great, give me a tutor for every kid in my class reading below grade level. We'll see what I can do.
BAILEY: When it comes to issues of -- you know, people talk about all these lotteries for charter schools. Well, yes, because they've developed something that's working. And obviously the parents can see that.
There shouldn't be a lottery for a good education.
BAILEY: Whether it's allocation of resources, whether it's rethinking what we're doing in classrooms, whether it's rethinking the system, whether it's rethinking teacher assessment, whether it's rethinking student assessment.
Those things are the things that should be on the table, nothing should be a sacred cow at this point. There's too much -- we have -- we have an opportunity right now. We're at a crossroads. “No Child Left Behind” has been around for 10 years. ESEA has been reauthorized.
We're at a place where we can actually do something and make some changes that can really make a difference.
WILLIAMS: All right. Well, the faint mooing of sacred cows audible in the background. With our thanks to Tim and Beth here on the stage with us.
We're tossing out subjects we intended to bring up as the conversation has a funny way of following its own rhythm, isn't it?
TEACHER TOWN HALL as part of EDUCATION NATION will continue right after this.
WILLIAMS: We are back, a Sunday afternoon there. You see on the intersection right here at the plaza on 49th Street in Midtown, Manhattan where EDUCATION NATION is underway.
We've kicked it off with this Sunday's TEACHER TOWN HALL. I'm Brian Williams. And we thank you all for joining us.
We've got a million issues that if you've been watching you've heard raised already. And yet we've got to keep going back to our core, a lot like education. And in this case, I need not tell you that is STEM -- science, technology, engineering, math.
Four crucial areas where people like me are always telling people like us our country has been falling further and further behind the rest of the world.
On stage with me -- and we're going to take questions from teachers in the audience -- are two professionals with a lot to say on this. Kaycee Eckhardt, she’s has taught in Japan. She now teaches reading at the New Orleans Science and Math Academy.
And Michael Geisen is the pronunciation of your last name, right? Michael Geisen, science teacher in Oregon, an '08 state and national Teacher of the Year.
Welcome to both of you.
WILLIAMS: You seem surprised when I said Teacher of the Year. Had they informed you of that?
Michael Geisen, science teacher, Prineville, Oregon: No, I haven't heard actually.
WILLIAMS: Well, congratulations.
GEISEN: No, I’m pretty well washed up by now than two years ago.
WILLIAMS: Yes. You look like a grizzled veteran of the --
GEISEN: -- of education then.
WILLIAMS: You look like you’re a grizzled veteran.
GEISEN: No offense, Chuck, if you’re watching.
WILLIAMS: So, Casey, you’ve been -- I assume you've been able to hear some of this discussion backstage. But let's talk about these four areas. And what you do to combat what we all know to be the problem.
KAYCEE ECKHARDT: Yes. I think that it's a huge, huge issue. And first of all, I think it's really, really awesome that teachers are finally getting a voice in this country. I think that NBC is doing a great job of it.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
ECKHARDT: I’m with a group of education champions who’s also here because we’re -- saying that teachers should be held accountable to these things especially from the STEM.
I spent four years in Japan looking at what students could do there. And by the time I taught them in tenth grade, they were able to do things that our college kids can't do now. And I walk into my ninth-grade reading class every single day knowing that I’ve got to prepare these kids to compete globally. And they read at an average fourth-grade level at 16. And that is unacceptable.
WILLIAMS: So what do you do about that? How do you control your obvious emotion and the passion that's brimming on this subject? What can you do?
ECKHARDT: Well, first of all, you teach them to read.
WILLIAMS: You just teach them hard.
ECKHARDT: And you make them aware of where they're at, their deficiencies and their deficits. It's a lot of hard conversation that I have with the scholars at my school saying, like, here's where you’re at and here’s where we need to go. And here's where average is and here’s where the world’s average is.
And we've got to take this gap and shrink it and we don't have a whole lot of time.
WILLIAMS: And if I gave you 10 minutes with President Obama to make your case, and you had a free shot at the president, at the secretary of education who's here for this conference, what would you say?
And if they ask you, how do I fix this? How do we make up lost time? I don't know where we lost the thread. But how do we make up for lost time? What would your answer be?
ECKHARDT: Wow. That's a huge question. Thanks for that.
WILLIAMS: That's why we have you here in the black chairs.
ECKHARDT: I think, first and foremost, we need to stop being afraid to say that teachers are the ones educating these kids. We need to stop being afraid to say that we, as the educators of kids, are accountable to these kids.
I think that we definitely need to address the fact that kids in lower socioeconomic levels do not get the same education as other kids in this country.
ECKHARDT: I would also say that it doesn't take a whole lot. It takes a really, really good teacher. It takes a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of commitment. But you can take a kid any age, any level, any background, any history and you can get them college ready.
And we need to accept that as a country and we need to get all of our kids prepared.
WILLIAMS: All right.
ECKHARDT: It's unacceptable to do anything less.
WILLIAMS: Michael, it is unacceptable. And your answer to that same question?
GEISEN: Kaycee, you still have seven minutes left for the president. Did you want to finish that up?
My answer is this. When we look at global competition, what we find through international comparisons is that the top students in the United States are still competitive with the top students in other industrialized nations. Nations like South Korea, Singapore, Finland, Japan, places that are held up as outstanding education systems. And they are.
Where we are falling behind is in the education of students of low socioeconomic status. It's that same thing that keeps coming up. That that is what's dragging our ranking farther down which means we are still competitive on an international stage.
However, when we take a look at the rest of our society being scientifically literate, able to contribute to the democracy, make sound choices about scientific principles for themselves and society, we're falling behind.
Now how do we reach those kids? Those are the kinds of strategies that they're using in great classrooms all over. And they involve not just the traditional textbooks, lecture and discussions like we've seen for the last 100 years.
Those aren't quite working in the 21st century. We need to involve more of the other side of the brain, the right brain -- creativity, innovation, arts, movement and music -- into science classrooms.
The United States has, I would say, a unique niche in the world. We are seen around the world and in my travels people look to the United States as innovators, as creative people. They want to be like us in that way. And in that way, we are the most competitive.
It's a matter of developing folks who are well rounded enough and able to use both sides of their brain as well as their bodies and their heart to really make a difference.
WILLIAMS: Thank you for that. We have --
WILLIAMS: I think the polite phrase is we have a veteran educator at microphone two who’s been very patient with us. So please your question or comment?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am principal at Oakland International High School in California, and a former history teacher. And I’m here to talk a little bit about the fact that we have failed a certain subset of students. The poor, kids of color, kids who don't speak English.
We are not helping them holistically. There are pockets of success here and there. But as a country, fundamentally we're failing them. And so there are a few things -- well, many things that we needed to do to correct that. But one is we actually need to compensate teachers as professionals.
So I --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So before school started, I had a vacancy at my school and I hired a teacher who had a master's from Stanford University. A very expensive university. And I had to offer her the lowest salary in the Bay Area.
California holistically pays teachers far below national averages. And I pretty much condemned her to never owning her own home. You're going to work in the most challenging district with the most challenging kids, need to make the most progress of any teacher, and you are not going to own your own home because you're going to make $40,000.
The other thing -- and this is a request from principals. I need help because actually not everybody is a great teacher. And I need help weeding those people out. And right now, that's very difficult.
WILLIAMS: All right. I'm going to let that -- I’m going to let that hang out there and linger and be discussed and thought about. And hissed, I noticed, in two cases in the audience. You know who you are.
Please at the other microphone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am --
WILLIAMS: Thank you for being so patient.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a retired high school mathematics teacher.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An I would be --
WILLIAMS: You made it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was a New York state Teacher of the Year in 1993. I’m here with all the Teachers of the Year from New York and Connecticut. And several years ago, on this very day, I was born in Harlem Hospital and I grew up in the South Bronx in the Melrose Housing projects.
So we can talk about low income, as can my mentee here who teaches at a lower-income school in Brooklyn. The late union leader Sandy Feldman once in her "New York Times" weekly column wrote about a fictitious town where parents had to pass their children off to the next neighborhood every five years.
So after a five-year cycle, you got your children back. But you made sure that all four of those towns were properly funded and had the same quality education that you wanted your child to have when that child returned to you in five years. And in turn, you took care.
So society as a whole needs to look at all of the children as theirs. And the politicians who are going to enact this legislation, the educators, treat your decisions as if you were making them for your own children.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A. B, I saw "Waiting for Superman" yesterday. My super heroes from that movie are Anthony's teacher and Francisco's mother.
Anthony's teacher had the things that money can't buy. She knew how to engage children in relationships. She had positive attitudes. She had passion. She took them on a field trip to the next middle school. She embraced them.
Francisco's mother did not take him to the lottery. She did not subject him to feeling the hopelessness and helplessness. So what do we do until we fix this problem? And I have faith in the leadership of this country. He’s going to fix it. We are going to fix it. It's going to happen.
But until then, don't depress the low-income schools of this country and those children into thinking, I go to a bad school. If I don't win the lottery, I’m going to end up in jail. That's depressing. That’s helpless. I'm also a psychologist. And that also leads to learned helplessness which will get us nowhere.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My colleague teaches at a Brooklyn school, low income.
WILLIAMS: Thank you, ma'am. All right. We've got to fit another break in here now. It's part of the dynamic of our conversation here at EDUCATION NATION. TEACHER TOWN HALL on a Sunday afternoon here in New York. Stay with us.
WILLIAMS: We are back beneath ground level here, really on the floor of what is normally considered the skating rink here at 30 Rock.
The last segment we talked about STEM. We talked about the so-called four basics. But I understand Rehema Ellis has some interesting stats on what people have been saying online about this. Kind of shakes up the preconceived notions, Rehema.
ELLIS: It really does, Brian. Science, technology, engineering and math, that's STEM. And we did a very informal online survey with more than 6,000 folks who are tuned into what the conversation is going on here in this room.
And we asked them about the importance of STEM in a child's education. Less than a fifth of the teachers thought it was the most important subject area. But three-quarters said it is a very important subject. Brian?
WILLIAMS: OK. And Tamron Hall is here with us on the floor who's found someone. Tamron?
HALL: Yes, Brian, we have a hot topic going on with this group because they are talking a lot about --
WILLIAMS: You’ve got to watch that group.
WILLIAMS: I've been watching them all day.
HALL: Come on, stand up. The whole group may as well. They're talking about generational. A lot of the problems you feel that we discussed and some of the solutions may be generational with the teachers?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know, but as younger teachers, I think we don’t understand tenure. I don't see a need for it. I have a union rep in my school.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a union rep in my school and when I felt under attack, she's been there to protect me. But I don't need tenure for that. I'm going to go in and do a good job, and they'll see that I’m doing a good job and they'll hire me again.
I don't need a piece of paper to tell me that I have to be hired each year. And I think as younger teachers, we’re seeing a lot of the things that we need. The union contract is getting in the way.
I know that in the South Bronx, my kids who don't speak English, need an extra vocabulary block. They needed extra phonics block. I need extra time before the test to do extra test prep. But we have a union contract that says the school day is from 8:20 to 3:30.
And that’s what’s so effective about charter schools is that they can do what their kids need. If they need an extra hour on Saturday, they bring those kids in on Saturday.
I'm not allowed to do that. And the reality, as in my case, is that the union contract is in the way.
WILLIAMS: All right. Very -- go ahead.
HALL: Well, Brian, this gentleman did not like what he heard, and why?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a New York City schoolteacher who started teaching at Stiverson and left a tenured position to go on and help those schools who needed restructuring for those ELLs, for those over the counters, we believe that it is our desire to go back and look at teacher development as a civil rights movement right.
And if we go to Al Shanker and Sandy Feldman and -- And Randi Weingarten, and we have celebrated and come back, so we're standing here still fighting because of the people that came before us.
HALL: Well, this woman has to come down the aisle to say what?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With all due respect to my fellow attendee here, tenure is a very important part of what we are proud to call part of our profession.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is not -- it is perhaps one of the most misunderstood components of our profession. Tenure is not a job for life. It's not a guarantee that you're going to have a job ad infinitum.
It simply means that as a professional who has responsibly done his or her due diligence with a three-year internship in -- as an early teacher, that you are now entitled to due process. You are entitled to a hearing before you are summarily dismissed before offending a board member or saying the wrong thing in a classroom.
HALL: And the bottom line, does it protect teachers who are not performing up to par?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do not believe that it does because you have an administration whose job it is to take a look at what the teacher does on a daily basis. And tenure does not necessarily mean that you have -- like I said, a job for life.
HALL: Let me let this woman stand up. (INAUDIBLE) What is your thought on that?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've worked with a lot of really wonderful teachers and many of them do have tenure. I worked in traditional public schools outside of Boston and that I came and I do work now in a public charter school.
And my feeling about tenure is that it can provide, like this colleague was saying, some really important things. But I also think that it does protect teachers who are not doing their jobs as well as they should be. And I’ve worked with some of those teachers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it’s frustrating to me to know that there are those teachers who are not meeting the needs of those students.
HALL: Brian has told me to keep going. So I will do that.
WILLIAMS: Have at it.
HALL: Come on down. Because I don't want to step on any toes. Because I think I have with this topic.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Teacher tenure doesn’t protect a bad teacher. Teacher evaluations are what will get teachers that are ineffective out of a classroom.
In my state of Rhode Island, we are -- my union has taken the lead in revamping teacher evaluation in the state so that we can have an effective evaluation system that provides professional development mentoring and assistance with the principal in developing goals.
Then the teachers that are not effective can be removed from the classroom. And that falls on the administrators, not the teachers.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
HALL: Let me get to this row here. Ma'am, in the middle.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I work in Yonkers, New York. And I must tell you that the state has left the students behind. Our governor cut $1.4 billion. Our city council has not funded our public schools. So when is accountability? I want to know.
The people that write the checks, that fund the schools, are accountable as well. Edgemont, which is right next door to Yonkers, spends $4,000 more on their children. They have more guidance counselors. They have more support staffs. This year, there is no art, no music, no phys ed, no guidance counselor in our elementary schools.
There’s a beautiful statue behind you. It would only be appreciated if we have our art teachers there and these children can know what true culture is.
WILLIAMS: Go ahead, Tamron. This is your topic, pal.
HALL: And, Brian, we have a Teacher of the Year.
You got an honor for being a Teacher of the Year. What do you have to say about the tenure issue?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think that if we look at the frustration here, and we can a tribute -- I attribute the frustration to a breakdown between the policy that governs education and what's actually happening in the classroom. And the education reform needs to start in America's classrooms with America's best teachers.
Often, there are policy makers who have good intentions to improve education, but by the time the policy translates into the classroom, it doesn't meet those intentions.
There's best practitioners out there, too, who don't understand about policy. And when it comes to the classroom, they're frustrated -- like many of us are here today.
The solution is to take America's best teachers, take them and bring them to the table. Have them have a say, to sit with policymakers and say, this is what's going to happen if you implement this policy. And then also, take the -- have them sit down -- people that are recognized, like I said, us, national board certified teachers who have been honored and meet certification because they can track their students' growth, award winners who have been honored for being innovative classroom teachers.
HALL: I think you're going to have to get a blog so can you say --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, bring these people to the table. That's what we need to help fix public education. Thank you.
HALL: Great thought. Great thought there -- Brian.
WILLIAMS: And, Tamron, before we end this segment, can you synopsize? Can you be brief at microphone one, please?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I teach in Newark. In terms of tenure, I want to say that I don't know if it's bad everywhere, but in Newark, I watch teachers in my school come to work two days a week, and still have a job at the end of the year. They were not educating their children.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just to kind of close, I think as educators, we need to focus on making less excuses and better educating our children.
WILLIAMS: On that note, we'll take a break from New York, where we're having a hot time in the old tent this afternoon. EDUCATION NATION continues after this.
WILLIAMS: The music has taken on a little more foreboding tone, because they're getting restless in the audience. People in groups are trying to get my attention to say, can we be next? And you will be.
I want to raise the curtain on a new topic, talk about it briefly with our guests who have been kind enough to join us onstage. We're going to continue and mix it up. Teacher evaluations.
Kaycee, how should you be evaluated? How should you be evaluated?
KAYCEE ECKHARDT: First of all, I just want to say that education and teaching is just about the only job that we have that is not yet evaluated consistently and nationally. And that's really, really scary.
ECKHARDT: My school, and I have an at-will contract, and I don't need tenure if I know that I do a great job educating my kids.
ECKHARDT: I also know that my principal and my director of curriculum instruction hold me to very high standards, and I take those standards and those expectations into the classroom. They evaluate me on everything that I do. They evaluate me on lesson plans and promptness. They evaluate me on my value alignment to the school, how I treat the children.
Everything that I do as an educator is examined. And I have to meet those standards or I don't have a job. And that's kind of how the world works.
WILLIAMS: And, Michael, if it were up to you, how would you want to be evaluated?
MICHAEL GEISEN: Well, evaluation has got to be looked at as an improvement process. It shouldn't be about -- it shouldn’t be about axing people. It's about how do we make education better for our kids.
We need to take a look at the evaluation systems that are 360 degrees. In other words, principals -- yes. Other teachers -- absolutely. Students -- where are their voices in this? Parents. They are all vested in this education. They should be the ones who are also helping to evaluate.
Should it be based on achievement as narrowly defined as test scores? I think to some extent, sure. At the end of the day, students should come away knowing something. On the other hand, we also need to focus on how passionate are our kids about learning. Can it be measured?
GEISEN: It's difficult, but certainly able to do it. Graduation rates, looking at obviously pedagogue, teaching methods, how good are you at what you do, like Kaycee was mentioning. There's a whole raft of different ways we can evaluate, not only teachers, but also students and their achievement. Instead of a narrow view of what that looks like, it needs to be a broad view that really takes into account what the real world is like.
WILLIAMS: Michael, Kaycee, thank you both.
When we come back, we'll take the questions into the audience. One more break, please stay with us. Teacher Town Hall continues.
WILLIAMS: We're back. The "TEACHER TOWN HALL" here in New York, as we kick off "Education Nation."
Up we go to Rehema Ellis. Rehema, what are they saying?
ELLIS: Well, they're saying there's a whole lot of passion about this, Brian. One thing we’re hearing in our unscientific survey that we’re conducting with thousands of people who are joining us online, we're hearing that nine of 10 teachers participating in the online chat are against the idea of linking teacher evaluations with student test scores.
Precious Boyle in Memphis says, "Your tenure should be your work, your work should speak for itself, and that guarantees your job."
Linda from California says, "Tenure does not protect poor teachers. It is actually a poor administrator that protects bad teachers."
Brian, back to you.
WILLIAMS: All right. It's getting hot under the tent.
Ladies and gentlemen, with us on stage, welcome two new educators, new to our conversation.
Gene Figueroa, a math teacher at the brand new Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation in East Harlem. He was a public schoolteacher in the Bronx for years. And I’m told his high school only takes kids from East Harlem neighborhood and has over 45 percent special needs, something you're enormously proud of, as well as predominantly low-income kids receiving free or reduced lunch.
GENE FIGUEROA, MATH TEACHER, EAST HARLEM, NYC: You're absolutely right. Thank you. Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Cate Dossetti, and I won't tell you what we were talking about during the break, teaches grades 10, 11, 12 English at Fresno High School, Fresno, California. Title 1 school, considered urban, even though you're in the heart of farm country really, and providing free and reduced lunch to 100 percent of the kids who come to school. Important.
And people forget, it's because Lyndon Johnson taught in a small school to mostly kids who came across the border from Mexico, and he couldn't believe they hadn't had breakfast. And he couldn't believe they weren't getting fed, that he vowed when he became president, to try to force that through as an act of government. So, that's where most of that goes back to.
I’m curious, Gene, same question we asked to the two educators in these very two chairs before the break. Same question everybody's energized about in the audience, how should you be judged as a teacher?
FIGUEROA: On the merits of my performance.
WILLIAMS: How do we know that?
FIGUEROA: Well, I think accountability requires a lot of different factors. And, first of all, I think that the accountability system we have in the country right now needs to be scrapped. We need to reinvent a whole new approach to evaluating teachers which is void of the many of the drawbacks that are in existence today.
WILLIAMS: Cate, everyone's an expert. Everyone’s an expert on what makes a good teacher. Everyone’s an expert on their own kid.
If only we had the parenting that is required for the other end of this, in the audience today, that's what we hear from educator after educator -- your view of this whole thing.
CATE DOSSETTI: I would love to hear from parents. I do think parents have a piece of my accountability. I’ve held accountable to my students, primarily, and to their parents.
I do not like the language of blame. If we only had better kids, if we only had better parents, parents send us the best kids that they have, and we teach in the communities that we want to teach in. My accountability should be what happens in my classroom, and testing is a piece of that, a small piece.
But the way that I work in my classroom cannot be measured solely on the basis of the numbers that my kids produce. Having said that, real authentic humane teacher accountability comes from a collaboration of teachers, it comes from a collaboration of administrators.
I think that, you know, that idea of peer-to-peer evaluation hasn't really been discussed. And we shy away from that, because you don't want to talk bad about your colleagues. But some of the best feedback I’ve ever gotten about my performance in the classroom has not come from an administrator. It has come from my collaborative team of teachers.
WILLIAMS: I want to set up -- if everyone's willing, I want to set up a lightning round in the audience where we'll go microphone to microphone. But I will cut you off.
Yes, sir, start us off, please.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, thank you very much. I’m a fifth grade schoolteacher in Brooklyn. The issue I want to bring up that I haven't heard discussed much is the number of men, the amount of men in education. There's a huge gap between women and men.
Women dominate the schools, administration, as teachers. There needs to be more men in the schools. And I think boys of color, particularly, boys of color, that you see promising -- they should be encouraged to come into this field that we're all talking about.
The passion that we have, these children can also have. They get to work in their own community. They get to help their fellow neighbors. Of course, we talked about the pay, which is not that great. Nobody goes into education to become rich.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We come into education because we care, because we want to help. And I believe, through all the issues that we have, in teaching, deep down, we all care about the children. And that's our passion.
WILLIAMS: OK. Thank you very much. Over here.
MONICA SIMMS (ph), TEACHER: Hi, my name is Monica Simms (ph). I’m from Chicago public schools. And I just wanted to talk about accountability.
If we are ever as a nation going to get this right, everyone needs to be held accountable: teachers, administrators, parents and students. Students need to value their own learning. Parents need to also take an active role.
And when we talk about how we rate our teachers, as a union member, I say that we all need to look at all of the factors that go into that. Kids are not just a number. They are people. And we need to remember that, as we are rating our kids and our teachers.
WILLIAMS: Thank you very much. Over here we go.
KATHIE LUCAS: Hi. I’m Kathy Lucas (ph) from Excel Academy Charter School in east Boston.
And I’m just trying to say that we talk a lot about the achievement gap. But it is being closed. It's happening. It's really happening. But it's only happening right now in small pockets.
And what we need to do is figure out how to take that to scale. But if you look at charter schools, not all of them are great. But they are the only ones who are getting predominantly low-income students all the way to college. And not just a few of them, but the majority, at 95 percent.
WILLIAMS: We better start talking about this charter school topic before the conference is over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is (INAUDIBLE). I teach in Chippens Hill Middle School in Bristol, Connecticut. And for one glorious year, we did close the achievement gap. A lot is possible if you work hard.
But what I'd like to say today, I hear so much that is apparently conflicting, but it's probably all true because we come from different places and we have different families. And it's wonderful to have a nationwide audience. But we have to go home.
We have to continue the dialog. We've got to sit with the people that we work with and work out those individual issues, because I think it’s -- we're not going to find one thing that applies across the nation. As far as the message to President Obama, flood the country with early childhood education money.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Support -- continue supporting after-school activities. We have to keep some kids off the streets. And if we are going to move to offering programs in the summer, some of our buildings need to be retrofitted, we need some air conditioning, temperature control.
WILLIAMS: Yes, I’m with you on that. As a -- as a former student and a bad one, I agree on that last point.
We're going to take one break in. We're going to continue this in the audience when we come back.
WILLIAMS: We're back.
And because I didn't want the following to be rushed, as we get off the air here, two very important things: tonight at 8:00, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski have a very special panel from this gathering that we're going to broadcast live, all times Eastern -- and this has to do with this film that, again, we've been calling the elephant in the room, "Waiting for Superman." This is going to be a hugely attended event at this conference here in New York tonight.
Tomorrow morning at 8:00, remember, both numbers are 8:00 -- 8:00 p.m., 8:00 a.m., Matt Lauer, a half hour with the president of the United States, on just this topic. They have been taking and collecting on the web a lot of questions from teachers. They will put them to the president of the United States.
The Web conversation continues. It's robust up to Rehema Ellis we go for a sampling of that.
ELLIS: It absolutely is robust, Brian. Listen to some of the things that people are saying. Other topics they're interested in, special education, textbooks and technology, arts education, dress codes and No Child Left Behind -- Brian.
WILLIAMS: We're not even -- that's the frustrating thing. We could go on for 12 hours as I keep saying. Dress codes, I'd love to get into -- love to get into summer education as well. We have just a few minutes left. This is going to be a bit like a rodeo.
You're both in the chute, gentlemen. Keep it shore or we're going to have to cut you off. I want to get as much of this as possible on the air. We’ll start to my right. Go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I teach at the Bronx Charter School for children and we are successfully school solely because we have a group of effective teachers. And I believe we have to stop excusing and blaming everybody for being ineffective. We need to say that tenure does not excuse bad teachers. Lack of professional development does not excuse bad teachers. We have to have effective educators.
WILLIAMS: Over to you, sir. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, we've been talking a lot about holding teachers accountable and how you evaluate teachers. But I think if you're going to be able to evaluate teachers in that way, you have to set up a structure and a system in which those teachers are able to be evaluated on the basis of their teaching.
One of the things that I think really works with a lot of charter school is the fact that their students go to school during the summertime. And so, maybe thinking about how our school calendar can be revised in ways to help facilitate that.
WILLIAMS: We've had comments on the Web already today that we're no longer an agrarian society, that we’ve got to rethink this notion of summer and I hope it comes up again and again in this conference and when you go home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I agree teacher test data should be used in evaluating how effective they are, but until the national assessment or the state assessments are in line with the national math and science assessments, we'll never know which -- who the effective teachers are.
WILLIAMS: Thank you very much. I sure hope you're not all staying at the same hotel. Yes?
KIMBERLY HENDRICK: I just want to address teacher support. My name is Kimberly Hendrick (ph) from Brooklyn Technical High School. And with the UFT and AFT, we were able to get a teacher center. And the teacher center is used at our school to help with professional development, with mentoring, with coaching and there are new teachers and veteran teachers that get support.
So, we realize that students are learning the way in which they learn now has evolved, so teaching has to evolve and that's what the UFT teacher center does.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
I’m going to give you 15 seconds, can you do it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll try.
WILLIAMS: OK. Go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I teach in Harlem. I teach advanced placement statistics and microeconomics. Last year, 92 percent of my students passed that exam. The national pass rate is 59.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All students can learn as long as teachers are committed, passionate and held accountable to standards.
WILLIAMS: That’s a great thought to get off the air on. My thanks here on stage to my friends Gene and Cate, all my friends who have come up on stage to help us as educators, all the educators here and watching. Stay with us for this conference.
I’m Brian Williams in New York. Thank you very much for being with us.
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