Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

“It’s two claps and then a sizzle.”

The NY Times took a stab at charter school teacher burnout and attrition rates today.

Norm Scott did a nice job of taking the themes the charter school operators hawk around their teachers - experience is a detriment, 5 weeks TFA training is more than enough to give teachers the skills they need, anybody with more than a couple of years experience gets burnt out - and applying them to the journalism profession, such as it is.

Good stuff from Norm.

I want to take a bit of closer look at what the Times describes these charter teachers doing in the classroom and the kind of advice their young administrators give them to improve their teaching practice:

Novice teachers receive constant feedback from principals and other campus administrators. On a recent morning, Melanie Singleton, a 27-year-old principal at YES Prep Hoffman, which opened in Houston this month with five of its nine teachers in their first year on the job, circulated through classrooms. 

Observing two first-year math teachers, she noticed that both were reviewing place values with sixth graders. “We might not be pushing them as rigorously as we can at this point,” she said. And when one teacher exhorted her students to give themselves a celebratory chant, Ms. Singleton corrected the teacher’s instructions. “I have to interrupt,” Ms. Singleton said. “It’s two claps and then a sizzle.” 

Every other week, new teachers meet with instructional coaches for 45-minute sessions. On an afternoon last week, Christopher Reid (experience: four years teaching middle school math) sat down with Alondra Aponte, a first-year art teacher. He praised her for giving students helpful tips for drawing self-portraits and for creating a positive classroom climate. 

But he said Ms. Aponte’s students should settle into their desks more quickly, and asked her to role-play the beginning of class four times. Mr. Reid offered comments (“You say ‘all right’ a lot,” “walk around the room narrating those who are doing a good job”) and helped Ms. Aponte install a time-keeping app on her laptop so she could give students precise deadlines.

That 27 year old principal sure does give some great advice -  “I have to interrupt.  It’s two claps and then a sizzle.”

Gee, thanks for that advice, Ms. Singelton.

What would we do if those kids grew up thinking it was time to give themselves "a celebratory chant" instead of "two claps and then a sizzle"?

I mean, how irrevocably would they have been damaged by this bad teaching?

And Mr. Reid, thanks for making sure the teacher knows that she must must emphasize the ticking clock for students at all times - there is NO time to waste! - because life is, if nothing else, an endless race.

The comments on the article are quite telling.

Overwhelmingly, readers are responding to the dehumanization of the routines, the absurdity of claiming experience makes no difference in teaching, the damage that is done to human relationships and individual growth and development by frequent teacher turnover.

Here is one comment:

It used to be a mission for professionals and a peace corps like endeavor for those wanting to serve a mission. Now it's a business model. Sure there are some natural teachers in these schools and hopefully will grow, get into the profession as one should.

To teach with this little experience across a school presumes scripted curriculum, scripted lessons, and frequent tests tied to both. That is not teaching.

The schools? Look closely at enrollments and who is quietly dissuaded from getting in the lottery. Check out the results on the NYC website on charters.

Read between the lines of this article.

It's a business model. Period. As the saying goes, follow the money.


High and consistent teacher turnover is not helpful for students in any situation, but is particularly unhelpful in a charter school environment. Charter school students often have people constantly entering and exiting their lives outside of school, and when the same is true of their school, it's an added strain. Kids feel bad and can feel abandoned when an adult they like leaves their lives. Regardless of the ability, energy and passion of outgoing/incoming teachers, institutional memory and relationships with students and their families take time to establish, and that's more difficult to do when a school is in constant transition.

And another:

I was the principal of a small nyc public school and it was clear that even the most motivated, talented and bright young teachers struggled in their first year or two of teaching- even with all the support we were able to offer.

Teaching is a complex, demanding profession. The new state standards require teachers to have considerable depth of understanding of curriculum and instruction. Teachers need to build their craft over time. Principals who lead schools need the background and experience to help them do so.

Two claps and a sizzle is neither teaching nor leadership- it's gimmicks. 

This one:

When my daughter entered middle school she was assigned a wonderful social studies teacher - someone with twenty years of teaching experience and a life time of travel that enriched that teaching. My daughter blossomed. The following year her teacher was a 24 year old with less that two years teaching experience. Lessons were formulaic and often inaccurate and she could not maintain discipline. She simply did not know enough about teaching or life to gain the kids' respect. At the end of the term she told the class she was quitting travel.

And this:

Experience counts. Anyone graduating from college and starting his profession soon realizes his education has just begun. Only a fool thinks otherwise, The secret is to keep the teacher while at the same time have the teacher keep her enthusiasm. This takes hard work on the part of the administrators.

Enthusiasm is not nurtured by limiting creativity in the classroom. Einstein said "Imagination is more important than knowledge.". Good teachers and administrators realize this and also realize creativity comes with experience....

 And finally this:

Just what our kids don't need--more instability in their lives and to serve as guinea pigs for freshly minted teachers in charter schools, who may not even have any coursework in child development and the psychology of learning and teaching or done an internship under the supervision of an experienced teacher.

Here is another thing that worries me. This article indicates that charter schools tout how they move new teachers up the career ladder fast. Speaking as a retired educator, I see lots of problems:

1. It takes about 3 years to get into the swing of things when you teach, and those first 3 years provide invaluable experience. And if you don't learn more about teaching each year--no matter how many years you teach--you are not suited to the profession.

2. I found that teaching young people really is a calling, and some of the best teachers I knew had no interest in going into administration--quite the reverse. Are our kids just supposed to be viewed as stepping stones for some ambitious young person's career trajectory?

3. I also believe that administrators would be more effective if they were required to put in teaching time; then they would understand what teachers go through.

4. Imagine what it will be like for seasoned teachers who are under the thumb of some young administrators with little teaching or life experience determining policy and handling problems.

Or is this whole game mainly about charter schools getting taxpayer dollars?

Few people seem to be buying into the “It’s two claps and then a sizzle" model of professional development or administration mentoring.

The other point I saw over and over in the comments - how many of these charter teachers teach only long enough until they can get out of the classroom and get into something "better" - i.e., administration.

Think of all the district leaders this is true of as well - some of the biggest names:

Michelle Rhee.

John King.

Kaya Henderson.

I dunno, maybe I'm a fool.

I never wanted to go on to something "better."

I like working with students in a classroom.

I think it's important to have experience at this job.

I have gotten better every year I have taught (I start my 13th year next week.)

The social and emotional learning skills I have picked up over the years as I have grown older myself have really helped me as a teacher.

I know how to reach students better now than I did in my first few years - sometimes that means academically (okay, that way of teaching isn't working, let's try this way...), sometimes that means emotionally (diagnosing what is holding a student back and then finding a way to begin helping the student through that issue...)

This is not the skill set a third year 24 year old TFAer has.

But as so many people in the comments noted, the elites don't care about that - they don't care about these kids in charter schools.

This is all about the money - monetizing the kids, squeezing the labor costs, making money off the tax breaks and real estate deals for charter school operators.


  1. I remember when supervisors , in large schools with large departments, were REQUIRED to teach two periods a day. Now, we see mini-schools of 250 students, with an A.P. and Princial, each who teach ZERO classes....

    1. Even now in my school, supervisors teach at least one period a day, except for the principal. In fairness, with all the mandates, there is less and less time for supervisors to teach classes themselves. But it should be a requirement - ap's and principals should be able to SHOW how it's done as well as TELL how it's done.

      The supervisors in the Times story can do neither.

  2. True that the paperwork supervisors now must do seems to triple their workload. This term, teachers should realize that they will be under constant observation , due to increases in required observations.

    Henry Giroux in clip below nails it all...


    Full Giroux article above.

    1. Thanks for the Giroux link. As usual, he provides a lot to think about.

  4. As if we needed more proof that these schools and the so-called educators that lead them are about training, as in training seals to clap and bark for their food, and obedience, rather than education.

    1. Trained seals who will work for minimum wage or thereabouts, follow orders and leave the premises judiciously when escorted out on their final day after being let go.