How long did Weingarten teach?

Education reformers “wouldn’t last 10 minutes in a classroom,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten this week.

A lawyer turned union leader, Weingarten’s classroom time was limited, counters Education Action Group.   

Weingarten’s AFT bio claims she taught history at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn from 1991 to 1997. EAG obtained her personnel file via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. Weingarten was hired as a substitute teacher in 1991 and received a “provisional” license in 1993. In 1994, she received a “certificate to serve as a substitute.” A 1997 letter indicates Weingarten didn’t submit documentation showing she’d met requirements for licensure.

No record indicates she ever served as a full-time teacher or was evaluated by a principal or other school official.              
When Weingarten ran for president of New York’s United Federation of Teachers in 1998, her opponent, Michael Shulman, suggested that she was not a “real teacher.”  

“She worked five months full-time that I’ve been aware of, in 1992, at Clara Barton High School,” Shulman was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “Since then she taught maybe one class for 40 minutes a day.”

An education reformer with two years as a Teach for America teacher apparently has more classroom experience than the AFT leader.


About Joanne


  1. The article to which you link assumes, first that as Weingarten had limited time in a classroom “Apparently she may not be speaking from experience”. It’s a binary – either she is or she isn’t. “Apparently” means “I don’t know the facts, but I’ll criticize anyway.”

    Beyond the ad hominem tu quoque, that argument also offers a straw man. “Weingarten doesn’t believe that education reformers would last ten minutes in a classroom but she, herself, taught for only a short period of time, therefore she shoudn’t be deemed credible when she criticizes teacher testing.” Has she personally claimed that she’s an education reformer? Has she argued that nobody is competent to comment on teacher testing unless they have extensive classroom experience?

    The article also suggests that Weingarten could not have become the AFT president had she not spent some time in the classroom. We are then told that she is an experienced union leader and lawyer, two factors you would think would make her highly qualified for her present position. This, it is suggested, means that she is “masquerad[ing] as an education expert”, an accusation of hypocrisy and an attempt to hoist Weingerten by her own petard. But here’s the thing: the article does not point to any suggestion by Weingerten that classroom teaching experience is prerequisite to becoming an “education expert” or that a specific modicum of teaching experience is required.

    I can say this: My classroom teaching experience is very limited – I substitute taught for a number of months during a time when I was starting a business. Through that experience I did gain some understanding of the classroom experience (and the impact of good and bad administrators) that I did not possess beforehand. I’m not sure that I would have learned much more relevant to this debate, though, had I continued to substitute teach or had I gone back to school, certified, and taught in a classroom for several years.

    Finally, if you accept the premise that “Weingarten likes to masquerade as an education expert, but she’s hardly more qualified to speak about education reform than the average parent and taxpayer,” because she has little teaching experience, you are asserting that education reformers without classroom experience are similarly unqualified. Whichever side you are on, you can’t have it both ways: either you can become an expert without classroom experience or you cannot .

  2. SuperSub says:

    “Whichever side you are on, you can’t have it both ways: either you can become an expert without classroom experience or you cannot .”

    You can’t, just as you can’t become a heart surgeon or a plumber without the necessary experience. This doesn’t mean that Weingarten can’t function well as AFT president, especially given her union and law expertise. One just needs to remember to take with a bit of salt her words concerning the actual education part of education. As for her “10 minutes” comment, well, I’d say that she is generally right and speaking from her own personal experience 😀

  3. John Thompson says:

    So, I’ll say it. Most “reformers” couldn’t last ten minutes in the classroom. they just don’t have the people skills. Randi, however, does.

  4. Weingarten’s criticism of educational reformers is probably pointing to the common gulf between theory and practice.

    I guess the criticism is that many good ideas are easier said than done.

    In my classroom, even if I have a good lesson prepared, I’m interrupted at important moments by office aides knocking on the door and pulling out students who need the lesson the most. Or right at the climax of a story, the principal gets on the loud speaker and announce there are still plenty of tickets left for the afternoon girls’ volleyball game. Or Lester is telling Mary he’d like to fondle her breasts–and I can’t remove him from class because his 504 plan states that interrupting with inappropriate remarks is one of his identified disabilities. Or may Esmeralda is fast asleep because home problems kept her up all night.

    The real world challenges of in the classroom often thwart the implementation of reform.

    But I suspect that Weingarten is critical of reform for the same reason that most people are who are in positions of power.

  5. Given her record, she has more experience teaching than the last 3 Secretaries of Education

  6. Maybe she spent enough time subbing she knew that *she* wouldn’t last 10 minutes. That’s a pretty common experience.

  7. Francis S.Midy says:

    Re AFT President ‘s message

    Dear Joanne,

    Please note the following with respect to Weingarten’s message.

    Below is a case-in-point.

    The latest NYS teacher evaluation system was put into place by the NYS Legislature and NYS Education officials when it became obvious that the Seniority Law could not be eliminated as Mayor Bloomberg had wished due to the lack of votes in the State Legislature and across-the-board consensus on its proposal to layoff teachers and other professionals in the New York City Public Schools.

    Accordingly the teacher evaluation system in question is for all intents and purposes an instrument designed to do away with teachers for budgetary concerns.

    Besides, the teacher evaluation system is plainly predicated upon the premise that our educators are full blown professionals since no step- by -step process on how teachers can perform effectively, highly effective or can achieve maximum professional efficiency is outlined in the document. The observation herein is the supervisor’s way or the highway for our educators in this 21st century and quite frankly it did not have to be like that. It comes down to let’s hold the educators accountable for all our social ills if need be. Put it another way the incoming teacher evaluation system is unambiguously a state-sponsored machination to fire educators regardless of rank.

    Tweed/NYC DOE is now formulating a rubric in association with the teacher evaluation system for our educators but rubric will not do any good to us if we do not have videotaped lessons of effective or highly effective teachings from school -based supervisors who are or will be involved in observing our educators.

    Talk and recommendations on observation report are cheap instead show us “how” on videotape of your effectively-rated lesson in my field/subject area as an example. Videotaped lessons of the school-based supervisor/s as well as evidence of her/his academic background in the area/s of observation will help us otherwise it will still be an exercise in futility.

    Weingarten was addressing the concept of business and civic leaders, scholars and University centers initiating reforms without any consultation with the classroom teachers.

    Weingarten did not have to remind us that WallStreet got the largest bail out in the history of this world caused by its poor choices and that the Captains of our industries should have known better.

    Weingarten was reminding us that there is no silver bullet in education and please let teachers teach.

    Weingarten is calling for teacher-inspired changes as opposed to bureaucrats or scholars lacking real classroom experience in urban schools and whom would have left after the third day. Randi was not talking in a vacuum.

    Weingarten, as the head of the largest union in NYC, was exposed to the patterns and numbers of those highly educated fellows who did quit our classrooms in NYC.

    Randi Weingarten was a labor lawyer, an outstanding and effective union president in NYC. And as such she has a sense of the type of leadership required to make a difference in our school community-parents, teachers and educators among others.



    PS.Randi ‘s mother was a NY teacher for decades.

  8. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Who the frack cares how much classroom experience someone has when they’re advancing an idea? Either it’s a good idea or it’s not.

    As a matter of fact, I was writing on this just a few weeks ago…

  9. And I have far more education experience, not to mention considerably more education, than the current US Secretary of Education. So what. If he were to ever have a good idea I’d listen to him the same way I’ve listened to all his bad ideas. I’m with Michael E. Lopez when he says “Who the frack cares how much classroom experience someone has when they’re advancing an idea? Either it’s a good idea or it’s not.”

  10. Francis S.Midy says:

    Sorry I forgot to fully identify myself to you ,Joanne.Francis has been an educator in the NYC Public School System for about 38 years.Yes I just retired from teaching social studies in the high schools and taught french early on in the system. A final note,please,Bill Gates acknowledged that the small school experiment did not help much and would like to see the big high schools again.Why? The early results or gains of the small schools are sustainable after the first years.And to stay the course grade inflation and cheating emerge in the process.

  11. Homeschooling Granny says:

    To any young person considering a teaching career: You will spend 4 or 5 years pursuing a degree in education, doubtless acquire considerable debt, and be certified as a teacher. Said certification apparently means nothing as you will thereafter need to prove over and over that you are qualified to be in the classroom. You will be blamed for the failure of children who come out of environments that you cannot control. You’ve got to be really dedicated to teaching to sign up for this.

    If significant numbers of teachers are ill prepared to teach, look to the schools of education that take their money and ‘certify’ them without properly screening them.

    Evidence suggests that homes play an even more vital role in educational outcomes than teachers. Children who do well – whether in public schools or home schooled – tend to come from families that have a lot in common in terms of supporting education. How about directing some social pressure supporting practices in the home that support education?

  12. Homeschooling granny….of course the home environment plays an important role. That doesn’t mean that we can’t look at the school side of the equation, though. As a parent I’ve seen plenty that could be changed on the school side of the equation. It also doesn’t mean that we peg children for failure when they don’t come from the ideal home environment.

  13. CarolineSF says:

    It’s kind of amusing that Joanne Jacobs is playing this as a big story while ignoring the Jonah Edelman fiasco that’s rocking the education reform world, not to mention the fact that reformy insider Tom Vander Ark (who ran the Gates Foundation’s destructive, failed small-schools project) got $1.5 mil from investors to open charter schools in NYC and is now walking away from the project.

    This silly Randi Weingarten non-story looks an awful lot like an effort to avoid those topics, which are doing serious (possibly fatal) damage to the so-called “reformers’ ” credibility even with the previously gullible.

  14. Francis says:

    The UFT/AFT never had a labor lawyer as president except Randi Weingarten.

    AFT/UFT presidents were classroom teachers without any degree in “labor” per se like Randi. And for the purpose of argumentation one can say they were not labor lawyers and yet they were in charge of supervising and/or negotiating labor contracts…

    Attendance teachers do not have classrooms, by the way. Bamboozled? I am.
    I do not comprehend the nature of the inquiry into Weingarten “Bio” for the purpose of establishing that she lacked classroom experience given the fact that UFT or AFT is about labor relations,collective bargaining agreements, rights and due process among others.

    It is purposeless and kind of splitting hairs when we actually layoff Weingarten’s speech on school reforms to focus on a non- issue. I agreed with what Robert Wright said on this website and this very issue that “…many good ideas are easier said than done.And this has been the message from Randi’s speech.

  15. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Kate, where in the pubic discussion of education do you see mention of the role that families play or of the role that students themselves play? The public debate I see treats it all as the responsibility of schools and especially teachers. I think we need to remind parents of their responsibilities. And students can learn that it is their education, for their benefit, and that their attitude and willingness to learn will make a huge difference in their lives.

    I care very much that children who come from difficult backgrounds be given a chance and I also see pathetically little evidence that the schools alone can provide it.

    (A sound curriculum helps too.)

  16. How is anything that Jonah Edelman said a fiasco? You say that only because he’s on the other side from you. It’s not as if the unions never think about political tactics themselves.

  17. Actually I see quite a bit of discussion about home environment…perhaps not here on this site. I know that where I live, people from the school board to school administrators to the community as a whole essentially write off any problems in the higher poverty more diverse elementary schools as essentially being about home life. I live in a university comunity and people go as far as to say…if one isn’t the child of an academic…then they come from a less than supportive environment.

    As a parent I can relate many experiences where the school end is the problem.

    What do you think is a “difficult background”? When people talk about issues like that, they act like it is a new phenomenon. I can say that my parents and parents in law all went through periods of extreme poverty. Both of my parents had parents who did not finish high school. My dad was born in the thirties and had a father who never quite recovered from the stress of the Depression years. My mom’s mom had an eighth grade education and had almost no ability to help in any way. Students that come from those sorts of backgrounds today are pegged for failure.

  18. I’d say Weingarten’s remarks are hypocritical.

    However she was hired to represent a trade union, and serve the interests of the members. She wasn’t hired to actually advance the profession, or consider the interests of the general public. Her union wants her to criticize education that is what she is doing.

  19. The whole “how long was so-and-so a classroom teacher” meme is stupid. Diane Ravitch was never a classroom teacher. Does that automatically disqualify her from having opinions about education policy? If not, then lack of classroom experience doesn’t disqualify anyone else either.

  20. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Kate, there was a time when immigrants with little or no education themselves asked at the dinner table what the kids had learned that day in school. They demonstrated to their children the importance of education. Today we have families who eat from the microwave and don’t even have a dinner table.

    One does not need to have a great education oneself to convey to ones children a belief in the importance of education. Yes, it certainly helps if the parents have a good command of vocabulary but its not the only thing. What parents value and prioritize is hugely influential.

  21. Granny…I’m not sure that the whole difference between now and then is the dinner table.

    I would say that for my parents, my grandparents sent them to school with some basic level of trust that the school was doing what it should.

    My father had two degrees in math. He helped me from time to time, and made a couple comments about how math was taught . Imagine my surprise as a parent that my daughter is supposed to “discover” math, and the teacher practically brags that she doesn’t “teach” math in the traditional sense. I probably spent more time in two grades of my daughter’s elementary math career teaching her math than my father(with two math degrees) spent helping me with math in my entire school career.

    My child also had a teacher who was paid extra buy the school district for having a master’s degree in teaching language arts. Yet upon questioning her there was almost no formal study of spelling, grammar etc.

    How is “home life” responsible for situations where the school is simply failing? The students who have poorly educated parents have little chance in situations like that.

  22. @granny….the same teacher who said my kid should “discover” math, also went AWOL one day and dismissed the kids early. She also took a couple three day weekends every month. When she was gone it was “fine for the kids to take a day off” and for the sub to show a movie.

    I’m not disputing that home life isn’t a problem in some circumstances. However if my daughter’s classsmate has a mom on crack that doesn’t excuse the school from their responsibilities.

  23. CarolineSF says:

    I have no classroom teaching experience either (though I’m about to start my 26th and last kid-year as an urban public-school parent, and I’m married to a teacher) — and I don’t think that lack of experience disqualifies me from participating in discussion about education policy.

    And Stuart is correct about Diane Ravitch.

    (Yes, Stuart, I recognize that you have more kids than I do and will be racking up far more kid-years if you haven’t already.)

    Weingarten has been chosen by teachers to represent them, presumably due to her qualifications overall (though she’s not my cup of tea).

    But a point that stands out about the currently popular set of popular “education reforms” is the degree to which they’re promoted by people with no experience as teachers (and largely with no experience or contact whatsoever with public education — not as students, parents or teachers). And these non-educators make a point of not including educator in the discussion, of not seeking out their views or expertise. In fact, these same non-educators heavily promote the view that lack of experience is a GOOD thing in education; that experience as a teacher is somehow corrupting and tainted.

    It follows that President Obama would choose a non-educator to run his Department of Education and continue pushing these harmful policies.

    Similarly, the Broad superintendent-training school focuses on people with little or no education experience — the less the better — and gives them a quickie crash course before unleashing them to run an urban school system.

    So while experience as an educator is obviously not a prerequisite for involvement in education policy, it’s still over the top for the currently popular education policies to be promoted almost entirely by non-educators who ignore and disdain the voices of teachers. I imagine that’s the point Weingarten was trying to make.

  24. I think people are missing the point. The point is one of integrity. She claimed she was one thing and it turns out that she wasn’t. Honesty from the beginning is always best.

    As to her having an opinion on education…everyone does. She’s no different.
    As to people not lasting 10 minutes in a classroom…maybe not, apparently she couldn’t either.
    As to being qualified to be AFT president…if being a lawyer and spending years in the union makes you qualified, then she’s qualified.

    But ultimately this is about integrity. And apparently she lacks it. I’d rather have a person of integrity in that position that a person who isn’t completely honest from the get-go. Kind of makes you wonder what else she’s lied about – if anything…

    just sayin…

  25. CarolineSF says:

    I’m not a much of a fan* of Randi Weingarten’s.

    But teachers elected her to represent them, so that’s why she gets to speak for them. I don’t see how that makes her a liar.

    The fact is that the prevailing education reform of philosophy is driven almost entirely by people who are not educators, not public school parents, and have no experience or qualifications to make pronouncements about education; who disdain the voices of actual educators; and who exalt inexperience and ignorance and scorn experience and expertise. That’s the point Weingarten was trying to make, and it’s a true and valid point.

    *The way she was vilified in “Waiting for Superman” gives me a little sympathy for her that I might otherwise not have.

  26. Roger Sweeny says:

    Caroline is absolutely right that most educational reformers don’t have classroom experience and don’t much listen to classroom teachers. However, this is hardly something new or limited to the reformers who now get media attention.

    Constructivist math was not something that came from math teachers. It came from people in the universities and the ed schools. Downgrading of phonics did not happen because teachers thought that would improve things. “Inclusion” is a cause of ed school professors and ed department bureaucrats.

  27. I was a UFT member when Randi Weingarten became President. She did not win the job in an election. Sandra Feldman, the outgoing President appointed her for the remainder of her term. Once in the position it has proven to be impossible to be defeated. When she did run for election only 22% of eligible voters participated which included retirees!. Teachers were (are) demoralized and simply felt it fruitless to vote. Seeing what’s going on in education today I am convinced more than ever that only thoroughly experienced educators should be involved in running unions, running schools, and also “reforming schools”. Having witnessed what has happened to teachers with Weingarten as UFT President, and schools in general under NCLB and now with RTTT under Obama/Duncan, I think the evidence is clear.

  28. CarolineSF says:

    Roger agrees that “most educational reformers don’t have classroom experience and don’t much listen to classroom teachers.” … Worse than that, the current so-called leaders in so-called education reform are actively hostile to classroom teachers and treat them as enemies to be crushed. And I would even say that most of the current educational reformers have never even set foot in a public school except on dog-and-pony-show staged tours.

    But Roger says: “However, this is hardly something new or limited to the reformers who now get media attention.”

    It may be accurate to say that many of the failed fads of the past were also conceived by non-educators with no contact with real-life public schools or kids. But the current attitude generated by the so-called reformers, of active contempt for and antipathy to teachers, is really unprecedented.

    And of course when there’s a history of failed fads conceived by non-educators who have no contact with real-life public schools or kids, wouldn’t intelligent and thoughtful people be extremely skeptical of new fads conceived by non-educators who have no contact with real-life public schools and kids?

  29. Roger Sweeny says:

    Caroline, your mileage obviously varies, but I do not feel “active contempt for and antipathy to teachers” coming from today’s “so-called reformers”–and I’m a teacher.

    I do feel a somewhat passive contempt from many people in the ed schools, an attitude of “we know better than you because we’re professors, so we’ll feel free to tell you what you should do.” They affect curriculum, licensing, and school policy more than the “so-called reformers” so they actually concern me more.

  30. so is there any disagreement about the facts, or a correction from the union?