“A week from tomorrow, the games begin,” Chancellor Joel Klein told an audience of a few hundred teachers at a welcome event this morning at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. Speaking of New York City students as “my kids,” Klein encouraged teachers to “teach them well and they will do well on these exams.”
In addition to speeches by Klein, UFT Secretary Michael Mendel, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, and others, the event featured performances by city students, including the music of the PS 22 chorus from Staten Island, double dutch by Stan’s Pepper Steppers, and foxtrot, swing, and mambo by the Dancing Classrooms Youth Dance Company.
Pointing to the accomplishments of his fifth grade choristers, music teacher and chorus director Gregg Breinberg told the audience, “I know many of you are entering the profession, and I just want to tell you — reach, reach, reach.” Other speakers echoed that message of high expectations for students — and for oneself as a teacher.
“Quite frankly, we don’t have room for so-so teachers, we don’t have room for that mediocrity in our schools,” Deputy Chancellor Marcia Lyles said. She recalled the way her sixth grade teacher made each child feel like her favorite. Lyles honored 33 teachers chosen for the Gotham Graduates Give Back Award, a $1,000 prize given to select teachers who graduated from New York City public schools.
Travis Bristol, a 12th grade teacher at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice, encouraged teachers to see their students in context by learning about their families, neighborhoods, cultures, and religions. He said that by asking his Muslim students to educate him and their classmates about Islam, he changed the tone of his classroom for the better.
Leaving the event, many teachers said they were nervous and excited about starting school. Katie Traxler, who taught elementary school music in Louisiana for a year and a half before moving to New York City, said she feels more supported here. She met her new principal at C.S. 57 in the Bronx and says, “He seems very, very supportive of the arts.” She traveled between two schools in Louisiana and is excited to have her own classroom – the school’s auditorium – this year.
Kelly Cuevas, a middle school music teacher who taught in southern California for 10 years, said seeing the children perform today inspired her. “I feel really energized after this morning.”
Danielle Chatman, a graduate of Teachers College, who will teach 11th grade social studies at Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School in Harlem, said she feels confident because she’s worked with youth for years, through programs like Upward Bound. Asked about changes in the city’s schools under Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, she said, “It’s my job – there’s a level of expectations in every profession. I welcome them all.”
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