Superintendent’s Attitude Raises Hard Questions
I am writing you to expand on the article “Teachers Censure Region 4 Superintendent” your newspaper carried in the December 21 edition of the Gazette regarding the censure of Mr. Reyes Irizarry, Regional Instructional Supervisor, Region 4. This letter of censure was endorsed by a majority of the approximately 8,000 teachers under his direct supervision in Community School Districts: 24, 30 and 32.
A teacher of almost 15 years and a United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Chapter Leader, I am surprised at the essentially uncaring attitude of Mr. Irizarry and the profoundly disruptive educational practices he is forcing upon qualified, caring teachers. It seems that systems of operation are more important to him than providing material support for the teachers who teach your children each and every day.
Imagine a system that forsakes blackboards and modern-day whiteboards only to embrace 40-inch by 60-inch paper flip charts.
Mr. Irizzary has a policy of no more blackboards, the thinking being that the paper that remains after the lesson is an artifact and that paper can be referred to by the student while a blackboard, or whiteboard, can be erased and, thus, the learning lost.
Now 30 students strain to see the materials being presented on a 40-inch paper flip chart and the 30-foot blackboard or whiteboard stands as a vacant, classroom decoration. It may seem an archaic device, but have we forgotten that it is the duty and responsibility of the student to take notes and that the physical act of note taking actually promotes learning?
Imagine a system that demands that books not be used in the classroom. Let me repeat that. NO BOOKS IN THE CLASSROOM!
Last year our school spent thousands of dollars on new 6th to 8th grade level books for the instruction of math, literature, social studies and science. When purchased, each school bought 30 books for each classroom, one book per child, only to be told later by Mr. Irizzary the books were not to be used in the classroom, and that if they were used that they should be used only as source books—one for every four students.
Why wasn’t Mr. Irrizary’s policy communicated to each school’s principal so that fewer books could have been purchased, thus saving thousands of dollars per school?
Imagine a system where the children teach themselves instead of being taught by a teacher with a master’s degree and more.
Mr. Irizarry issued a directive about “group learning” and how much time the teacher is to spend instructing the students in their charge.
Seven minutes is how long the teacher has to directly teach their students. An 84 percent reduction in teaching time to promote “group learning.”
Mr. Irizarry has mandated that teaching should be limited to seven minutes out of a typical 42-minute period. The remaining 35 minutes, or 84 percent is to be devoted to providing groups of four time to discuss what they have learned, during the seven minute lecture, and/or time to develop concepts that have been demonstrated by the teacher during those increasingly important seven minutes.
Mr. Irizzary is so rigidly in support of his policy that he commends principals and other school administrators who use stop watches to time a teacher’s delivery of the content for the day. Moreover, teachers are called on the rug, or rated unsatisfactory and threatened with termination if they do not strictly adhere to this seven-minute direct teaching policy.
Now that 84 percent of classroom time must be devoted to promote group learning how are they going to learn the basics such as math, reading and writing?
How many 10-to-13 year-old children do you think discuss the teacher’s topic of the day when the teacher’s back is turned? Don’t you think other issues, such as video games, boyfriends or girlfriends, contemporary hip-hop and rap music, World Wide Wrestling, etc. can be, and most probably are, so much more important to them?
Our society has changed substantially. But does that mean that less time should be devoted to what Mr. Irizzary calls direct instruction and more time given to group instruction just to acknowledge the growing impatience of children to sit, listen and learn?
The statistics about education are before us and they relay a different, unsettling story. Fewer students pass the New York State examinations, more students drop out of high school and more colleges have remedial coursework to bring the potential college student up to “level” and thus more able to acquire a college education.
Ask yourself: Should a policy where teachers are spending less time teaching and more time watching students talking be the preferred method of instruction?
Ask yourself who is more qualified to teach. The student who doesn’t know algebra or the qualified math teacher who does? The student who can’t tell iambic pentameter from free verse, or the qualified English teacher who does? The student who can’t cite why we entered into WWI and WWII or the qualified social studies teacher who does? The student who can’t tell the difference between a phylum and a species or the qualified science teacher who does.
If you come to the same conclusion as some 8,000 teachers who censured Mr. Irizzary in Region 4, write and ask him why he is so profoundly hampering our children’s opportunity to learn and why he is depriving them of an education they so desperately need.
Paul T. Norwich is a teacher and United Federation of Teachers Chapter Leader at I.S. 204 in Long Island City.