Sunday, November 07, 2010

Master Teacher or Masturbator?

I never heard the term master teacher until I started working at Packemin HS.  Sure I worked with a bunch of fantastic teachers before, but no one was considered a master teacher, not even our chairperson who could teach any course from remedial arithmetic to calculus and have the kids listening and learning.

I encountered this term for the first time on a posting for a comp time job.  My friends and I all laughed about it and figured it was just another way for the administration to hand pick the person they wanted and void union regulations.  We never even gave it much thought and applied or didn't apply based on whether we wanted the jobs or not.  I don't recall anyone ever being turned down because they were not masters.

This week I had a discussion with an AP that I like and respect very much.  As we were discussing a person that is very well known on this blog, she said, "Well, he is a master teacher."  I couldn't believe my ears and asked for clarification.  She then went on to say how he got 43 out of 47 kid to pass the Math A regents one term.  She had this and nothing else to go on to give evidence to her conclusion.

A young teacher, not in my department, walks around the school telling everyone that he is a master teacher and as such, should not be subjected to teaching the lowest level kids in the building.  They are giving him a very hard time.  Unfortunately, this master teacher cannot teach without a Smart Board or a Power Point presentation. 

I was always under the impression that a master teacher should:
1.  Have total knowledge of every course offered in the department in which s/he works.
2.  Be able to walk into any course and teach that class with ease.
3.  Have the ability to make material crystal clear to everyone in the room.
4.  Be engaging.
5.  Have total control of the class
6.  Be able to inject his/her love of the subject into everyone in the class.

According to
1. command or grasp, as of a subject: a mastery of Italian.
2. superiority or victory: mastery over one's enemies.
3. the act of mastering.
4. expert skill or knowledge.
5. the state of being master; power of command or control.

Neither of these individuals possess these characteristics.

Today's data driven world has replaced mastery of subject areas with mastery of exams.  My very bright calculus students do not know how to think because last year they were taught to memorize and regurgitate.

In all my years of school, I can think of one master teacher--Gerry Elgarten.  I first met him in JHS 113 in the Bronx.  He taught a slow algebra class that my best friend was in.  He used to let me sit in on my lunch.  I remember being mesmerized by the way he brought the subject to life and held the attention of 34 young teens who wanted to be anywhere but math.  (He moved on from there, teaching in high school and college and eventually becoming a AP).  There are no master teachers anymore only masturbators and it is time to stop giving these self fulling individuals so much credit.


Anonymous said...

In today's test-driven mentality, there cannot be a "master teacher" because there is no longer "teaching".
If passing a test is the only agenda, then the focus of teaching is limited. If however, getting a student to think on his own, to analyze and explain and make significant personal gains, that's teaching. If the student passes, that's great. If the student at least shows significant progress, but still needs time to master it completely, that's great too. But to ask all students to be exactly the same, score exactly the same when we know there are so many other factors, that's impossible.

My little niece is an avid reader. But when she had to write a report, she couldn't reason the thought process. Before the reformer agenda, we had time to analyze and discuss. Now we just show and tell. I can use math as an example. Before the agenda, I wouldn't give a damn about the curriculum calender, and would do my own review using manipulatives and games until they understood the basics. By the time March rolled around, they were ready for the test because they understood the concepts, and they passed!! No one cared about quarterly assessments on topics that some "authority" thought should be taught, so there was no pressure to keep to some scripted game plan. The needs of the students came first. Now it's the needs of the school statistics that come first.

NYC Educator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
james boutin said...

the person they hand-picked to void union regulations.....that about sums it up.

In Washington, DC, Michelle Rhee hired a group of "master educators" and paid them 90k to observe every teacher in the entier District twice a year and tell them how shitty they were under IMPACT (her novel way of defining excellence and crappiness). While I actually thought most of these master educators seemed to be pretty human and had a lot of experience, the way they were scoring people was ridiculous, mostly a result of a ridiculous rubric for teaching effectiveness.

NYC Educator said...

Actually, a master teacher, by any standard, should be ready, willing and able to teach any level, including the lowest and therefore most challenging. Any teacher with the temerity to boast of being suited to teach the best, the least challenging kids only, is really fundamentally lacking something.

People like the one you describe often aspire to be supervisors, and invariably make the very worst supervisors there are. The best supervisor I had made it a point to teach every level, every discipline in the department. This put her heads and shoulders above those who take the least challenging classes for themselves and offer the roughest to new teachers with no experience at all--a time-honored but idiotic practice.

ChiTown Girl said...

Ugh!! We've been hearing that damn term since New Principal arrived. It's so damn irritating! As a matter of fact, the woman who was in my room last year was one of New Principal's 'master teachers.' She could do no wrong. We were constantly told, day after day, that we should do what Mrs. M. is doing because "she's a master teacher!" Well, when I was forced to leave my classroom and move into hers, I left many things the way she had them, cuz hey! If the "master teacher" set it up this way, it must be perfect, right? Yeah...not so much. New Principal has written me up for things that were done by the "master teacher." For example, she said my word wall was not good enough and didn't contain enough 'tier II words,' etc. I literally NEVER touched the word wall. It's EXACTLY the way the "master teacher" left it!! Ugh! I don't know how much longer I can keep working at the Hell-Hole, especially when bullshit like this happens on a daily basis.

Anonymous said...

Chi--you should put that in your response to the letter, but if you can, grieve it first.