One of my all-time favorite moments covering the New York City public school system occurred just before Christmas in 2003, at Public School 28 in Harlem. About 50 or 60 second graders, onstage in the school auditorium, serenaded Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein with a perfect rendition of “Feliz Navidad.”
When the singing stopped, Mr. Bloomberg applauded. “Children, that was beautiful,” he said. “Now, what I want you to do is say ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy New Year,’ first in Spanish, then in English.”
The problem was not a language barrier — nearly all of the children at P.S. 28 are bilingual — but rather the mayor’s notion that he could give four simultaneous commands to a group of 7-year-olds, as if they were his aides in the bullpen at City Hall or executives at his company, Bloomberg L.P.
Still, the students who had just finished singing so sweetly in unison dutifully tried to grant Mr. Bloomberg’s request.
“Meyeow, weow, eowah, eiwash, iwah,” they mumbled. Or something like that.
Working with children looks easy. It is not.
In four and a half years on the city schools beat, I have often repeated this anecdote to principals. And typically they chuckle, grateful for the recognition that many people, including the mayor, may underestimate how difficult it is to work in schools on a daily basis, and not just because of the intellectual challenges of teaching.
School professionals are called upon not only to educate children, but also to nurture curiosity and civic values, and even to teach the most basic manners. Once, while waiting to have lunch with my mother, now retired after more than 30 years as a teacher in a city elementary school, I stood in her school’s main entrance and watched a teacher walk by with her class, shouting: “Fingers out of your nose! Fingers out of your nose!”
Not only do professional educators have to know how to deal with children, they have to be clever about soothing an even wackier bunch: parents...
This from the New York Times.