Palitz: An irresponsible argument

As an English teacher at Wilbur Cross High School and a 2010 graduate of the Yale Masters’ in Urban Education Studies program, I am deeply disturbed by Nate Zelinsky’s criticism of New Haven Promise and its associated sentiments (“An empty promise,” Nov. 10). The stereotypes and clichéd critiques of teachers that Zelinsky offers are unfounded. They do serious damage to the public education system by diminishing the respect given to teachers and discouraging smart, hardworking people, like Yale students, from entering the profession.

When I entered New Haven public schools as a student teacher last year, I am ashamed to admit that I expected to find the kind of teachers Zelinsky describes. What I have found is just the opposite.

I am lucky to work each day with such intelligent, dedicated and supportive colleagues. They take pride in their work, have high expectations for students and themselves, and put in many more hours than their salaries justify. I challenge Zelinsky to shadow any teacher at Wilbur Cross for one week or even one day, and stand by his statement that teachers “do not commit the necessary time and effort needed to do their job well.” I don’t know how early I would have to arrive to be the first teacher in the building — many teachers are there well before 7:00 a.m. And most teachers, including myself, work late into the evening on lesson plans and grades. Wilbur Cross teachers are constantly developing new ways to teach, challenge and inspire their students.

So if teachers aren’t the problem, it must be parents, right? This was my second shameful misconception. Urban parents typically don’t care about their kids’ educations, and do not provide the kind of support students need to be successful, right? This year I have made over 120 phone calls home to parents and have learned how wrong this stereotype is. My students’ parents care deeply about their children’s education. Many have come in to meet with me before work or on their lunch break in order to discuss a child’s progress. Others call or e-mail me to make sure that their children are on track. They are invested in their children’s success and are eager for help. However, my students’ parents do not have power — this city does not hear their voices.

Before I started teaching, I was much more sure of what needed to be done to “fix” urban schools. Now when friends and family ask me, “What’s the most needed reform in urban schools?” I stumble to answer. I cannot put my finger on “the problem” because there is no one singular problem responsible for the widespread low achievement in urban public schools. This problem is far more complex than most people realize, and it certainly won’t be remedied by bashing teachers.

Teaching is a craft that takes time to learn. Great teachers are not born, but developed over time. Programs like Teach for America, though well-meaning, ensure that our nation’s urban students will be taught by a rotating staff of idealistic but inexperienced teachers. Parents in suburban communities would never allow their children to be taught by untrained teachers.

Yale and New Haven need to work together to solve this. Working together does not end with Yale throwing money at a problem. Our public schools are not Yale’s charity case. Yale and New Haven need to genuinely collaborate to desegregate neighborhoods, desegregate schools, and take co-ownership over the economic and social problems the city faces.

So I ask you, Mr. Zelinsky, are you ready to start building a better New Haven?

Akimi Palitz is a 2010 graduate of Yale’s Masters’ in Urban Education Studies program and an English teacher at Wilbur Cross High School.


  • The Anti-Yale

    *Teaching is a craft that takes time to learn. Great teachers are not born, but developed over time*

    In the 1950’s Yale President A. Whitney Griswold ABOLISHED Yale’s Graduate Department of Education saying “It is not necessary to teach teachers how to teach.”

    Good teachers are born, not made. Teaching is an ART, not a craft. Artists PAINT; they don’t talk about painting.

  • The Anti-Yale

    The dichotomy is a savage, soulless one: Modernity wants a teacher to be an


    A. Whitney Griswold recognizes that a teacher is an


    Paul D. Keane

  • River Tam

    > Good teachers are born, not made. Teaching is an ART, not a craft. Artists PAINT; they don’t talk about painting.

    How then do we ensure that bad teachers don’t teach? I’m open to ideas, unless you think that will somehow interrupt the art.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Peer review; classroom observations and feedback; continuing education.

  • penny_lane

    PK- Would you say that good doctors are born, not made? Perhaps some people are born with natural talents that suit them to be good physicians, but they still have to go to medical school. Requiring ALL teachers, from pre-school through 12th grade, to have an advanced degree and complete something like an internship or residency would make them better prepared for their work, and weed out those who are resorting to the profession because they think it’s easy/aren’t smart enough to do anything else. Education is largely clinical, after all, dealing nearly entirely with the brain, and seeking to promote the cognitive and behavioral development of our children.

    (P.S.- Your dichotomy is a false one. Plus, information=/=learning.)

  • Goldie08

    Good pornstars are born, not made. Some think their craft is teachable, but trust me – I’ve studied the best. You can’t teach that.

  • River Tam

    > Peer review; classroom observations

    Peer review doesn’t work because teachers cover for their colleagues. Peer review becomes a popularity contest. It’s been tried, and it failed. Hurrah for union solidarity.

    > feedback; continuing education.

    But I thought good teachers were *born* not *made*.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Don”t ask me, ask the late Yale President, A. Whitney Griswold.

    If the rest of academia had abolished their graduate departments of eduaction (as President Griswold did at Yale , saying, “It is not necessary to teach teachers how to teach”.) we wouldn’t have those Mickey Mouse M. Ed’ degrees RexMottram’08 abhors.

    In fact all teachers getting an advanced degree over the last 50 years would have had to get it in their discipline (since “Education” would have disappeared from the catalogue) and we wouldn’t be in the pedagogical funk we are in now.

    I predict that in fifty years teaching and school as we know it will cease being about ‘inspiration”, cease being an attempt to make minds “catch fire” (Yeats), and become, instead, an “INFORMATION DELIVERY MECHANISM.”

    You will win River Tam and Penny Lane and you will join Michele Rhee, Chris Christie, Bill Gates, Joel Kline and perhaps even Oprah on Charon’s raft gliding across the River Styx with bodies of deceived children piled high waiting to be interred on the shores of Princeton’s Educational Testing Service, Inc,

    I’m glad I will be dead by then.

    Welcome to your Competent, Competetive, Cold New World.

    Heaven save our already isolated and solipsistic children.

    Paul D. Keane


    M. Div.


  • River Tam

    > In fact all teachers getting an advanced degree over the last 50 years would have had to get it in their discipline (since “Education” would have disappeared from the catalogue) and we wouldn’t be in the pedagogical funk we are in now.

    I completely agree that teachers should be experts in their fields, not in “education”.

    However, this doesn’t solve the problem of teachers being born, not made.

  • The Anti-Yale

    It’s not a problem. It’s an observation.

    Good luck in Mercantilia.

  • River Tam

    > It’s not a problem. It’s an observation.

    Wouldn’t you agree that it *is* a problem if people who are not born teachers end up going into teaching.

    > Good luck in Mercantilia.


  • The Anti-Yale

    We can’t expect every teacher to be Mr. Keating (“Dead Poet’s Society”) or Miss Dove (“Good Morning, Miss Dove!” )

    Somone once pointed out that half of all practicing MD’s graduated in the lower half of their class.

    But don’t make schools so mercantile—so spread-sheet-obsessive— that the Mr. Keatings and Miss Doves are driven out.

    Artists and Mercantiles don’t mix.

  • Mikelawyr2

    There’s something about sophomores telling us how to fix public education that’s, well, sophomoric.

    When I was at Yale, a couple of students wrote a guide called “Sex at Yale” that purported to tell us what sex at Yale was all about.

    Uh huh.

    Part of the process of growing up is about realizing that you were a complete flaming idiot back when. I imagine Mr. Zelinsky will have one or two of those moments. For his sake, I hope they come sooner rather than later.

  • Standards

    >Somone once pointed out that half of all practicing MD’s graduated in the lower half of their class.

    Oh my god, have you heard that half of Americans are below average? Doesn’t that frighten you?

    And your comments up to this point are strung with so many non-sequitors it’s painful. Teachers are artists? Standardized tests are pushing good teachers away?

    I mean these are normally the types of claims people justify, instead of expecting to stand on their own because you have a few M.xx at the bottom of your posts

  • The Anti-Yale

    Is Teaching an Art or a Science?

    This entire posting series on “Education” (Yale Daily News articles and posts below them ) is really a debate about C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures”. At the moment, Science is in the ascendancy, and the Gradgrinds (Dickens’s “Hard Times” ) and their Utililitarian unctuosuness* have entranced the public.

    After the Gates-Rhee-Kline-Christie Quartet passes from the scene, and we are left with a nation of soulless children clacking their boots in unison to the zeig heil of Princeton’s Standardized pontifications, we may yearn for the gleeful chaos of joyful childhoods, sculpted by the artists we used to call teachers.

    Rest in Discomfort, Lord Snow.
    *Jeremy Bentham, King of the Utilitarians and the model for Dickens’s educational tyrant, Thomas Gradgrind, in “Hard Times”, had himself stuffed after his death. His mummy is wheeled out in a chair at the annual Board Meeting of the British Museum and the secretary records “Mr. Bentham is present.”

    A Fitting Fate for a Gradgrind.

  • The Anti-Yale

    PS (to Standards)
    I’m going to say this once and only once:
    The reason I use the Mxx’s on posts is because in the narrow world of Yale, such artifacts are presented like calling cards, to gain entrance to certain situations. I use the M. Div. for entry to the so-called Yale Daily News posting board and especially on posts about religion and ethics. I use the other non-Yale Mxx’s when the posts call for secular credentials. I almost never use them otherwise, except to write recommendations, eulogies, and tributes.

    Oh, and they do appear on my blog profile simply because I had no music groups, videos, or tv shows to declare. I’m boring.

    If they irritate you, it is only because the artificial world of academia prizes such gewgaws. They are almost useless in the outside world.