Friday, January 29, 2016

Another One Bites the Dust

Tom Porton, a high school English teacher in the Bronx with over 40 years of experience quit teaching. Yeah, so what? If you haven’t already read this NYT piece about Porton, you should.

Mr. Tom Porton, via UFT
Twenty-five years ago AIDS was a serious issue in low socio-economic areas nationwide, and the Bronx was no different. Porton thought the most effective preventative measure was an education, and so he teamed up with Montefiore Medical Center to educate his students. Since then, he’s distributed an AIDS educational flier to his students annually. His efforts have earned him national recognition, including a spot in the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

In additon to staging plays and dramas, Porton also teaches a civic leadership class that meets before school. His students hone their leadership skills and connect to their local community (which includes feeding the homeless). It’s no surprise his students praise him as a life-changer and continue to nominate him for awards.

Brendan Lyons, Porton’s principal, recently asked Porton to stop distributing his H.I.V./AIDS educational fliers because he considered them “inappropriate.” In fact, Lyons asked Porton chase down fliers any he’d already distributed to students. Porton’s principal also took away his civic leadership class because it wasn’t Common Core-aligned — you know, the class that met before normal school hours…

Tom Porton submitted his resignation papers last week.

Mr. Strauss, a teacher who changed my life (I wrote about him here), forwarded me the NYT article about Porton. The article, coupled with who sent it to me, made me incredibly sad — it’s Mr. Strauss’s final year where he teaches as well. The guy doesn’t want to stop teaching, I know he doesn’t.

I wonder just how many great teachers we’re going to lose (and have already lost) in the coming years because of our obsession with being “data-driven,” “standards-aligned,” and “college-ready” [insert other buzz words here, I know I’ve missed a bunch].

Another one bites the dust.
Our education system has created the circumstances necessary for great teachers to go extinct. Porton was the classic, inspirational teacher. The heart and soul of his school. I didn’t know him, but I bet his passion was contagious. The kind of teacher Hollywood would love to turn into a movie.

What will today’s students say about the new teachers we’re training to be test-preppers first, nurturers second? Imagine students of today speaking about their current teachers twenty years from now. What would they say? Here’s my guess:
“Ms. So-and-So was life-changing. I passed that [state exam name here] with flying colors because of her. Or was it the [state exam name here]? Who cares.” 
“Mr. So-and-So was incredibly passionate. The way he told me never to leave anything blank on [state exam name here]: WOW. You just don’t get that kind of personal attention anymore.” 
“Mx. So-and-So was so organized and methodical. I distinctly remember where they posted their daily objectives, essential questions, and data wall. Oh and that soothing countdown to [state exam name here] on the chalkboard — beautiful.”

You get the idea.