Well I Never

Let’s say your New York City charter school has resolved to pay every teacher a base salary of $125,000. You’re about to drown in applicants. How do you sort through them?

If you’re founder/principal Zeke Vanderhoek:

The school’s teachers will be selected through a rigorous application process outlined on its Web site, www.tepcharter.org, and run by Mr. Vanderhoek. There will be telephone and in-person interviews, and applicants will have to submit multiple forms of evidence attesting to their students’ achievement and their own prowess; only those scoring at the 90th percentile in the verbal section of the GRE, GMAT or similar tests need apply. The process will culminate in three live teaching auditions.

Waitaminit … expertise verified by student achievement?!

Who in the hell does this stuffed suit Vanderhoek think he is, telling me my worth as a teacher is in any way related to what my kids know? If they don’t learn, that’s on them, their parents maybe too, but not me.

I mean, look, man, I’m an artist and you can’t assess art with numbers. Unless they’re the six numbers you’re fixin’ to write on my check.

I mean, it’s almost like he’s trying to turn teaching into a profession.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. That sounds like an excellent school Ben! The problem is that my math GREs were perfect but the language was only at the 87th percentile so I am out :(

  2. The money sounds good, and the workday is on par with the pay. But I wonder if they’d accept, as an example of student achievement, work from the student with Down Syndrome who was in my class for “socialization” a couple of years ago and who progressed from sitting in class with his hands down his pants to circling “yes” or “no” in answer to questions about a photo.

    Any idea how I’d show evidence for that? How about the student who did no work all semester, never even showed up for class, but wrote a killer short story while she was refusing to come back from Central America? It was a good story.

    And but what about the one who was a leader in the classroom, putting together discussions and lessons about Macbeth, motivating his classmates to pull together and work out some differences, etc, but flunked the CAPT because he fell asleep after working three late nights in a row?

    I don’t think there’s a single teacher who will say that their job isn’t to increase student achievement. The issues are a) how to define said achievement and b) what to then do with it.

    But you knew that. You’re just shaking the bee’s nest while covered in powdered sugar, a big ol’ grin on your face and your buddy taping the whole thing for some sort of amateur Jackass production.

    And that’s why I read this blog.

  3. Maybe they’d agree their job is to increase student achievement but I don’t know how many would say, “if the kid didn’t learn, that’s on me.”

    So many of them would invoke a 50% responsibility between teacher & student/parents in spite of our education, age, experience, and salary, an attitude which, to my eyes, already makes them grossly overpaid.

  4. I say eliminate the income tax for teachers and they will instantly earn 25-30% more without states having to increase school budgets. The money is already there, it just wouldn’t be taken out of teachers checks!

    $125,000/year for a teacher is great, but the day that is true across the country instead of in a couple of small experimental charter schools will be the day when the cost of living is twice what is now, so it’ll end up being a wash.

    Just eliminate the income tax for teachers now! That’s the easiest way to value how hard teachers work and to acknowledge how important they are to the future of our country.

    Should we start a petition?

    Paul Edelman

  5. I saw this and wondered what the reaction here would be.

    @Ben: You really think the work day sounds that different? Personally only teaching one course, having three prep periods, and constant observations sounds luxurious. And the hours on the website are about the same as the hours I’m at school this year.

  6. Let me flip this on its head a bit.

    Facilitating the genuine internalization of knowledge depends upon one thing in particular (and ask me if you’re interested in the 25 years of behavioral research backing this up): supporting the learner’s autonomy.

    The teacher is, of course, completely responsible for putting that support in place. But beyond that, it is also the teacher’s responsibility to allow the student to step up and take charge. (And perhaps that student won’t. This is the risk.)

    Such shared responsibility isn’t abdicating what we’re supposed to be doing in a classroom. It’s effective pedagogy.

    So where does stating that “if the kid didn’t learn, that’s on me” veer off, I wonder, into just plain old vanilla teacher-centered arrogance?

    I’m going to get in trouble now, Dan, but this needs to be said: this is going to be the trouble with those bright, talented, motivated, educated teachers that NYC charter school is looking for. They can commit the same errors the crappy teachers do. Only the errors are prettier. Harder to spot– for others, and for themselves.

    Where was that bee’s nest again?

  7. I’m not going to ask you for research, I just want to know how the Latino language learners in TEP’s neighborhood are gonna pick up an understanding of language, writing, and reading under full autonomy.

    Like, anecdotally. Gimme any sorta lesson plan or case study that won’t implode.

  8. @ Dan,

    Did we miss this?

    The teacher is, of course, completely responsible for putting that support in place.

    Clearly, the ELLs, to take one of the more extreme examples, need support. Clearly, their teacher needs to find ways to help them with their command of the English language, and should scaffold their education in such a way that they can achieve some sort of success. But if one of those ELLs opts not to study, or doesn’t think that the presentation you worked on all weekend was utterly spectacular AND educationally sound, or there are other factors I can’t even think of right now, should the teacher be held fully accountable for that?

    Oh, and

    So many of them would invoke a 50% responsibility between teacher & student/parents in spite of our education, age, experience, and salary, an attitude which, to my eyes, already makes them grossly overpaid.

    My students’ parents are a good deal older than I am, make a lot more money than me, and have had 15-19 years of experience with their kids.

  9. Shame on you, Dan. Didn’t we just spend an entire post series hammering out how classroom culture is near completely specific-driven and cumulative in nature? And now you want me to defend my position with some flimsy anecdotal parry that you’ve already set up to fail by its theoretical nature alone? No way, Straw Man. :) :)

    And I also suspect we’re not talking about autonomy in the same way. But maybe I’m wrong there.

    Not that a potential mismatch in definitions is your problem– it’s mine. Let’s talk about the research, seriously. It’s been conducted, in schools, controlling for SES and across cultures. Don’t mean to sound like I’m dodging. I’ll have something up on my blog in a bit. (H– keep reminding me.)

  10. This whole CM discussion is starting to look like a rather pointless exercise to me. How many people here honestly think that any teacher reaching out to other teachers via the “internets” does not realize that a) they are by far more responsible than anyone else for the performance of their students, and b) the devil is in the details?

    No offense guys, but thus far I’m seeing little more than equivocations over shiny little bits of the obvious.

  11. Weird. This conversation here’s got less than nothing to do with classroom management. Maybe this was intended one post up.

  12. Hmm (what is this post about again?). It seems I was rolling classroom management and overarching education philosophies into one here, mostly because I was seeing double with the rhetoric. My bad.

    In conclusion, I did indeed intend to make my comment elsewhere, but now I’m so very confused…

    Strangely, I’m fairly confident that my point stands, even here. Most everyone seems to be on the same page to me. I’d rather read how you people aim to accomplish your (ostensibly?) shared goals than how you think you disagree with one another’s foundational beliefs.

  13. It’s simplistic to say either that teachers are responsible for their students’ results or that they’re not. The truth lies somewhere in between. A team of statisticians could probably find where it lies, but the rest of us wouldn’t be able to understand it! Good teachers will get better results than bad teachers, but the teacher is just one of many variables in a student’s life. An important one, sure, but there are many others.

    To me, the truest thing is that a good teacher will effect *improvement* in most or hopefully all of their students. But measuring that is difficult, and correlating it to determine how good a teacher is would be just as difficult.

    My language here is complex. So is the problem of trying to relate student results to teacher quality!

    To me, it’s a matter of numbers. There’s one of me, 100 of them. I’ll do my best, but they are responsible for their own achievement.

    So yes, rant against teachers making lame excuses by all means, but claiming to own students’ achievement is a bit unrealistic.

  14. All that aside, I really like this part:

    Each TEP teacher teaches only 1 subject for 1 grade level.

    That’s fewer courses I teach than during my student teaching.

    Oh, and did you hear that there are no electives? Yep. Just music and Latin. Every student takes them.

    This is the school I wanted to go to as a student. Seriously.

  15. Sorry, Dan. Went for “clever” and sacrificed being clear. Let me try again.

    You’ve asked me whether “full autonomy” in a classroom wouldn’t implode with TEP neighborhood kids– I’m assuming you mean low-SES ELLs. My response is:

    1) As I mentioned, I suspect strongly we’re not talking about the same thing when we say “autonomy.” Would you be surprised to learn that the Felton Project is drenched in it? I have an old post up on the theory:


    and I’m planning another one soon.

    2) Check out here


    for how this theory plays out real-world in education. I reject defending it through a theoretical application to TEP because, well, that’s inefficient. Much better for the entire conversation if we proceed from facts first.

    3) Just so you know I’m not talking completely out of my ass, I did my student teaching at PS 130 in Chinatown. Just a taste of the world, and not Washington Heights, but certainly parallel. They do a ton of autonomy-support stuff there, and it shows:


    Want to try this again?

  16. Gotta read up a bit, I guess, but just like running a class w/o homework has been harder than with nightly assignments, just like transparent classroom management is more difficult than daily, front, center, and loud discipline, assignments like Feltron, in which the teacher’s input is mostly background, are much harder to create, run, and assess than your typical 1-30 odd problem set.

    I’m responding, primarily, to your assertion above that if teachers promoted more autonomy in their students, they’d become less essential to the students’ learning outcomes. And I’m saying, without having yet clicked a link, that seems inverted.

    Autonomy seems harder to structure, harder to scaffold, and harder to assess.

  17. Wicked hard. But how hard something is has nothing to do with how effective it is. My prediction is that your kids will own the Feltron in a way that they own nothing else this year. You will see stronger retention, stronger buy-in, stronger critical analysis, and stronger problem solving and flexible thinking skills. Compare it– quantitatively– to the gains in your other units. See if I’m wrong.

    As per inversion, I truly don’t think so. Here’s why I think we can have my “autonomy” and eat your “teacher essentiality” too: it’s only the teacher who can encourage autonomy. It’s only the teacher who can watch and know her students so as to set them free to flourish with the correct knowledge and tools. It’s only the teacher, in the ultimate paradox, who can– and should– in the end, create the learning circumstances under which she renders herself obsolete.

    (And I do mean the END. What is the END of education, after all? Isn’t it to give our kids the means to be responsible, self-confident, skilled, loving, compassionate people, without us nagging them every damn second? That’s autonomy at its paramount.)

    — d

  18. So just like we didn’t connect earlier on “autonomy,” I reckon we missed each other on the “effectiveness” of a teacher, which, in spite of however I come off on this blog, does not mean, “makes the students learn lots of things,” to me.

    I guess I still contend that “learning to learn” is a lot easier when you know how to read and write.

  19. “I guess I still contend that “learning to learn” is a lot easier when you know how to read and write…”

    Oh, sure (in a tone of friendly agreement). But alas, you have not even escaped my net here. The preponderance of evidence that kids learn to read better– more fluidly, with better comp, and more vocab acquisition– through weighting curriculum with autonomously selected material in which kids have intrinsic interest is astonishing. I mean, rock you back astonishing.

    And of course there’s the stuff kids need to know about reading and writing that they don’t give a rat’s ass about. But even here, if you’ve created a classroom that is autonomy-supportive, the kids will learn even these rote unpleasantries better. TMAO knows. :)

  20. Is it dumb to ask, “Is there any math curriculum out there that supports autonomous learning?” I mean, kinda antithetical, right?

    Is it dumb to ask, “Is there a way to cover state standards while promoting autonomy?” Still a bit antithetical to the devil-may-care wander-where-the-wind-takes-you ethos.

    ‘Cause I’m willing to put in the hours wherever. And I don’t enjoy one bit working a problem out “with” my students knowing I’m leaving them with few useful skills for handling future problems.

    But I’m not sure I crank out a year’s worth of Feltron projects. I’m not even sure how successful Feltron is gonna be, itself.

  21. Oh, sure. (In a tone of friendly agreement.) (Again.)

    It’s the question I will be working on for the rest of my life. How do kids own the curriculum (autonomy) without owning the curriculum (standards)? I’m unwilling to throw either of these things out for the sake of the other, because I am convinced of the fundamental need for both.

    So I gotta bring it. There’s no other way around. In otherwords: I’m remembering your post on NCLB, I think it was, in which you state that good teachers find ways to do their good work within the constraints of the law. So goes it here.

    I think you’re right in implying that math does not nearly have the wiggle room that English does for this kind of creative work. But…but. It can be done. Through classroom culture/management approaches, through content matrix– wherever you can balance your goals as teacher with allowing the kids to have as much as of a genuine voice as possible. (I find myself starting often by saying to kids: “Here are the two groundrules. You have to like it. But I have to be able to live with it.” They get that.)

    As per Feltron being a) energy-sucking and b) possibly not even successful: I still maintain that when b) you assess retention of content, critical approach, and creative analysis, Feltron’s gonna fly. Just watch.

    I also maintain that a) if you average a conversion of a mere, sustainable 1/10 of your curriculum per year to autonomy-supportive projects, it’s going to take you only that decade to publish your groundbreaking math curriculum and own your island. I am dead serious. As you so rightly ask: Where *is* autonomy-supportive math curriculum? It’s in your head, Dan, like Athena, clamoring to be let out.

  22. Late to the party (again), but have you heard of the CAME project in the UK? (http://www.caaweb.co.uk/).

    Not strictly speaking on the same page you are (the focus is independent thinking rather than autonomy in the sense that it’s been discussed here), but there might be something useful there to throw in the mix