Guest Essay: Maybe You Wouldn't Want Me to Teach Your Child

Teacher & Employment Testing

by Lois Weiner, Ed.D.


Maybe you wouldn't want me to teach your child. I failed the essay portion of New York's Teacher Certification Exam that measures professional knowledge. But then again, you might want me very much to be your child's teacher -- if you knew that I taught successfully for 15 years, that the Westside Chamber of Commerce honored me as "Teacher of the Year," that my doctorate in education is from Harvard, and that I have an M.A. in teaching English from Columbia University Teachers College and a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley.


Maybe I failed because I just can't write. Unlikely. I received a perfect score on the written portion of the liberal arts test, but more importantly, I've published dozens of magazine and journal articles in the past decade.


Maybe I'm a verifiable intellectual but my ideas about education are goofy? Not according to the American Educational Research Association, which honored my book Preparing Teachers for Urban Schools (1993) for distinguished scholarship.


Maybe the test is flawed and you shouldn't trust the results. This was my conclusion after I took the test. When the New York State Board of Regents and the City University of New York (CUNY) Board of Trustees made an issue of the test results, I was teaching at a CUNY campus, so I took the test to find out how well it assesssed the skills and knowledge teachers need today, especially in urban schools. Unlike most professors of education in the nation's universities, I was a career teacher for 15 years, six of them in very tough Manhattan high schools, so I know what's required to teach city kids well.


The test required by New York State measures almost nothing that thoughtful teachers need to know or do. The multiple-choice questions are crude and demand simplistic answers. The company that creates, administers and grades the tests (National Evaluation Systems) has refused to consider the challenge I've lodged against my score, so I don't know why my essay failed. I'm confident I analyzed the question in a sophisticated, nuanced manner and that my answer displayed the kind of clear thinking I expect of students in my education classes.


After I took the exam I discussed it with some of my former students, among them the brightest students I had taught at CUNY. We agreed, ruefully, that my course hadn't prepared them for the exam. Of course not. We read and discussed classics in education, demanding works. They had to write well and think critically about the decisions they will make in their classrooms. They had to show that they understand that children are individuals who learn differently, so teachers must be prepared to examine instruction from many different perspectives.


I prepared them to be the kinds of teachers kids will adore, parents will respect, and colleagues will admire. New York State seems to want another kind of teacher. I think that's the reason I failed the written assessment of professional about teaching.


But isn't that the kind of teacher you want for your child?