Testimony of Danika Nieves to the Board of Education,May 30, 2019

My name is Danika Nieves and I am a first-year teacher at Edison High School.  Last year, I was one of a cohort of 20 teacher residents sent to the Relay Graduate School of Education’s teacher prep program.  I am asking that you deny the renewal of Relay’s contract, and instead, partner with real, local universities to train new teachers.

I came to Relay last year with an open mind.  I was happy that Relay’s tuition was so inexpensive, and, better yet, that the cost would be covered by the District.  As it turns out, I quickly learned, you get what you pay for.

Relay gives a lot of lip service to principles of equity and diversity, but there is very little diversity of thought at Relay.  Nearly all of the instructors are Teach for America alumni, and several of them have limited classroom experience.  Some are not particularly knowledgeable about their own content areas.  All of them have a charter school background.  The program is very much geared toward training teachers to deliver pre-packaged lessons in privatized schools with top-down, scripted curriculums.

Throughout the year, Relay instructors had us spend hours giving instructions to the wall, calculating the number of hours lost if kids don’t move around the classroom in perfect boot camp formation, and even doing “teacher aerobics” set to music where we practiced standing on our tiptoes, crouching down to help a student, and popping up like a groundhog to monitor the rest of the class.  I found myself wondering when the gimmicks would end and the substance would begin.

Furthermore, I found many of the Relay techniques deeply troubling.  We were shown many videos of “ideal” teaching that included a lot of test-prep drills, chanting, boot-camp-esque classroom management, and telling kids to “track the speaker” as though we would be training dogs rather than educating children.  I thought about my own public school experience – I would have been kicked out of school for defiance had I been told to do any of this by my teachers.  I also couldn’t help but wonder whether these tactics would be acceptable at schools on the Main Line.  They wouldn’t, so they shouldn’t be acceptable for kids in Philadelphia.

Even joy in the classroom at Relay was reductive and artificial.  Rather than developing the ability to cultivate genuine, intrinsic curiosity about the human condition and the universe around us, we were encouraged to track instances of character development and impose canned “zest” through choral responses and rhymes that served as yet another veiled control technique.

When I questioned Relay’s obsessive focus on data collection and assessments at the expense of a more holistic teaching practice, a Relay instructor told me that I might want to consider a different career.  I love my students, and I don’t want to consider a different career, but I do hope the Board will reconsider Relay.  Thank you.