E4E-NY Teacher Jemal Graham: Balancing Support and Accountability
Jemal Graham is a middle school math teacher in Brooklyn. Along with teachers Patrick Sprinkle and Sarah Adydan, he interviewed New York State Education Commissioner John King at E4E's "Where Do We Stand?" event.
This past Thursday, I was honored to participate in a panel discussion with New York State’s highest-ranking education policy maker, Commissioner John King. Sponsored by Educators 4 Excellence and held at the CUNY Graduate Center in midtown, the event provided a rare opportunity for teachers across the city to have their voices heard by the policy makers who affect the lives of teachers and students across the state.
Throughout the evening, I found myself surprised at how affable and approachable King was, given his impressive credentials - at 37, he is the youngest commissioner in the state’s history as well as its first of African-American and Puerto-Rican descent. Even more than the commissioner’s openness, however, I was struck by the sincerity of his dedication to students and his belief in the importance of the teaching profession. He spoke at length about the important role that teachers played in his own development as a child, and his continued commitment to the profession was evident throughout the conversation. Repeatedly, the commissioner laced his calls for increased teacher accountability with full-throated calls for better supports to help New York’s teachers grow and improve.
As impressed as I was with the commitment of the commissioner, I was equally impressed with the commitment of the 100 teachers in the audience who came out on a work night to ensure that their voices were heard. Their wisdom and insight was evident from the questions that they posed. Teachers’ questions ran the gamut from issues like the importance of assessments in science and social studies to the impact of the changing political climate on the future of education policy. There were far more questions than time allowed during the forum, but the commissioner continued the discussion at an E4E reception afterwards.
On a personal note, I left the evening feeling an immense sense of pride. I was extremely proud to be part of such a fantastic collection of teachers that give so much of themselves and their time. I was also proud to be part of an organization like E4E, which is helping teachers’ voices reach the boardrooms and offices where education policy has been holed up for far too long. Ultimately, no one is certain where the shifting winds of education reform will settle in New York State, but I am comforted to know that there are leaders in place who truly have the interests of our children in the forefront of their minds. I am also glad to know that regardless of who occupies the Commissioner’s office in the future, organizations like E4E will continue working on the ground to assemble the voices of teachers and infuse the policy sessions in Tweed and Albany with a little chalk dust and wisdom from the classroom.