By Kathy Quirk
Martin Haberman Photo by Kathy Quirk
Martin Haberman, distinguished professor emeritus of curriculum and instruction
in UWM's School of Education, discovered his life's work while standing in a draft
board line in New York City waiting to take a 30-word vocabulary test
"They had a fancier word for it, but it was basically a vocabulary test," Haberman
says. "If you passed the 30-word vocabulary test, you could stay in college. If
you failed it you went into the army and would be very likely to go to Korea, where
58,000 service people were wounded or killed."
Haberman passed the test the three times he was called up and was able to finish
college. Among "the 500 guys standing in line" waiting to be processed and
tested, he found that those most likely to fail the vocabulary test were Puerto
Ricans, African Americans and poor whites. The experience taught him two valuable
lessons: "a sound basic education could save your life; and "the fundamental inequities
in the American public education system are life threatening. "
That experience changed my life," Haberman says. His goal became to change the education
system for the children in poverty in urban schools -- those for whom school success
was fundamentally a matter of life and death.
He went into teacher education, he says, "because I felt I could have more influence
there than as a teacher with no voice or ability to influence policies in highly
bureaucratic urban schools or state departments of education." After earning his
master's and a doctorate in Teacher Education from Teachers College, Columbia University,
he came to UWM in 1962. He has been awarded Honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters
from Rhode Island College and the State University of New York.
Forty-six years later, Haberman is still working to improve teaching in urban schools.
Although he officially retired in May after 43 years on the faculty of the UWM School
of Education, Haberman is currently leading a hands-on master's class for urban
teachers, writing, researching, and running a foundation. He says "not much has
changed since my official retirement. I’m just getting paid from a different source
(the retirement plan)."
Haberman has developed more teacher education programs which have prepared more
teachers than anyone in the history of teacher education. The most widely known
of his programs was the National Teacher Corps, which was based on an internship
program he developed in Milwaukee. He has since written and researched extensively
about the factors that make teachers – and their students – successful in urban
schools. He has developed a selection interview to guide school districts in hiring
teachers who are likely to succeed and stay in urban schools which is used in more
than 220 school districts nationally. His latest book (2005) is "Star Teachers of
Children in Poverty."
Haberman summed up his philosophy of teacher preparation in a 2004 article: "For
children in poverty, success in school is a matter of life and death, and they need
mature people who have a great deal of knowledge about their subject matter, but
who can also relate to them. It is also necessary to recognize that most of what
effective teachers learn they learn on the job from mentors, colleagues and self-reflection."
Early in his career in Milwaukee he developed an innovative internship program for
liberal arts graduates which caught the attention of the late Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord
Nelson and Sen. Ted Kennedy. This became the model for the National Teacher Corps,
which eventually prepared 100,000 teachers. "It was a notable failure," Haberman
says in his typical blunt style, "but I learned a lot about what doesn’t work and
it made me famous." And, he adds in a dry aside, "if a program gets a lot of grants
and attention nobody ever asks if it really helped kids?" But the Teacher Corps,
which ran from 1963-1972, was a learning experience, says Haberman, "and I’m a firm
believer in experimenting with teacher education models. We learned a lot about
what worked and what didn’t work."
Building on that early experience and the 40-plus years of research since then,
Haberman has developed a significant body of knowledge on the ideology and behavior
of effective teachers for diverse children and youth in urban poverty. "The surest
and best way to improve the schooling and the lives of the approximately 15 million
children and youth in poverty is to get them better teachers," he says.
In an article in the June 1995 Phi Delta Kappan, Haberman outlined 14 key teaching
behaviors that are characteristic of "star" teachers. In the same article he argued
that selection is more important than training and that a level of maturity must
be reached before teacher training can have value. "Two of the fundamental attributes
of successful teachers are maturity and judgment," says Haberman, "that's why it's
important to establish programs that bring well-educated college graduates with
valuable life and work experience into the classrooms.
"Fundamental belief systems separate star teachers and teachers who burn out and
fail in challenging situations," says Haberman. For example, "some teachers believe
some kids learn more than others because they’re smarter. Teachers who believe that
might be good at grouping students and marking papers, but are more likely to fail
or quit," says Haberman. "On the other hand, teachers who believe school success
is explained by effort are more likely to get their students to succeed. Why? Because
they figure out ways to motivate, interest and get them to work harder."
At UWM and in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, Haberman says, he found such a wonderful
laboratory for experimenting with ideas to improve education that he never was tempted
to go elsewhere. "I was very fortunate to be at UWM and in Milwaukee. They have
also given me the opportunity to try anything I’ve ever wanted. I couldn’t have
found a better place. UWM has been an absolute, perfect laboratory. I can say the
same for the State Department of Public Instruction in Wisconsin which has accredited
every model I ever asked them to let me try."
The Haberman Educational Foundation works with school systems across the country
to screen and interview teachers (principals and superintendents) who will be most
likely to stay and be effective with diverse students from poverty backgrounds.
"The number of cities that use my teacher interviews bring in about 30,000 mature
adults who will be effective with diverse children in poverty every year."
"If you estimate the number of children those teachers will reach," says Haberman,
"I'm touching the lives of millions of kids in positive ways.... and that's a very,
very warm feeling."