Professional Development: UFT Teacher Centers Heads and Shoulders Above the Rest

Apr 21, 2021 by

The new state budget is “the best the children of New York City have had in years,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew  correctly observes.  Some parts are nothing short of thrilling.  Foremost is the many years-delayed funding that was due under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity” ruling. 

Whether or not it is directly attributable to the flow of money from this righteous landmark settlement, one outstanding cause for particular celebration is the restoration of spending cuts that the UFT Teacher Center had suffered midyear.

The $14.26 million allocated to the Teacher Centers is a singularly wise investment. The “bang for the buck” is of Krakatoan proportions.  The Teacher Centers, located in 115 schools but provide top-quality materials and pedagogical modeling throughout the system, are far and away the best existing source for professional development for our educators.

The  professional development services they provide are unique.  They both strengthen the instructional skills of educators and are extremely popular with them. 

Generally speaking,  professional development contractors succeed only in getting those sentenced to endure them to groan, doze off or call in sick.  Every New York City public school teacher must endure numerous “professional development” ordeals on a regular basis. Most educators who are forced to attend them would rather be defendants in one of the 17th century Salem witch trials.

With the exception of the UFT Teacher Centers, the product of many providers of professional development is a generic substitute for melatonin.  Sessions are excruciatingly dull and estranged from classroom realities.

Many of the corporate presenters dwell in a fools paradise.  They think they have the answers to every classroom problem, even though many of these outsiders would be eaten alive in an actual classroom where a true educator wasn’t present to bail them out. Their programs are less likely to fill the captive audience’s brains with solutions than fill the providers’ bank accounts and time-slots.

“Professional Development”  is an overloaded industry much like factories producing ball-bearings during war.  Usually the presenters are contractors ( often folks who had abbreviated classroom careers), vendors from profit-ravenous corporations, or Department of Education hangers-on whose limited experience is  exceeded only by their limited skills.

They pitch like high-pressure salespeople on commission, or cultists who, despite having neither “been there” or “done that”, think they know it all and won’t brook dissent from their audience who are, after all, their peers at the very least.

Their shows, often a cocktail of of pseudo-research marinated in pop-psychology and jargon, are usually stultifying and often soul-slaying. Often there is a patronizing and proselytizing tone that doesn’t sit well with educators, though they are compelled to sit through it.

UFT Teacher Centers are the outstanding exception that proves the rule. Its representatives are active classroom educators who know the ropes of the bureaucracy and  how to triumph over its impediments and disincentives.

The following direct quotations, lifted verbatim from an actual PD about behavior management ( a term they reject; insisting that the word “support” must replace “management”) are illustrative of why most PD earned its bad rap.

I emphasize that this is not from the UFT Teacher Centers.

1)”There is no bad behavior, just communication”.

2)”Creating a a change in students isn’t about teaching them how to behave. It is about teaching them how to get their needs met”.

3)”Punishment will not be successful in remedying deficits of any kind. Punishment destroys the relationship between the student and staff”

4)” Misbehaving students do not decide to be bad”.

5) “There is no such thing as bad behavior. Consequences don’t really work”.

Educators are undeniably in need of ongoing professional development, as are dentists and tax accountants and other specialized experts. They welcome that, which is why they are so frustrated by missed chances  and poor quality “experts” who were sometimes hired because of dubious favors or connections.

The restoration of funds for the UFT Teacher Centers is cause for jubilation.  The school system has a lot of work to do in the aftermath of the last year.  It mustn’t fritter away this golden opportunity.  These Teacher Centers are the champions of professional development.

Every school deserves champions.

Ron Isaac

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