In the wake of teachers at LAUSD being given 23 schools to run, we need to express our own personal vision of education and then join in a system of two-way accountability in contrast to the top-down model most of us have spent our teaching careers in, so that we can answer the questions necessary to make public education finally successful for all students. In Teacher Magazine, John Norton wrote These Things We Believe in the February10, 2010 issue where he tries to address the recent spate of anti-teacher articles that have teachers in the most negative funk he has seen them in during the last 25 years. Bob Williams, Alaska's Teacher of the Year for 2009 says, "It feels unhealthy for me to become defined only in terms of negatives or things that I am against. I'd like to propose that we list up to three things that we support and are convinced will help improve our schools and our profession. What do we believe in?"
"Robert Marzano's meta-analysis research states that the quality of the teacher has the greatest impact on student performance. Every day I step into my classroom, I believe that the work I do is important and the skill with which I do my job makes a difference."
All students, even the ones that have not as yet lived up to our expectations, know if a teacher is doing their best or just phoning it in. If you have it down to the point where you are going to a filing cabinet and recycling materials that you have used for years, maybe you need to teach something else in your subject field or think of doing something else with your limited time on the face of the earth. Like a surgeon who spends eight hours in the ER, the zen of teaching five classes a day and making the fifth class as inspiring as the first takes a ton of dedication and concentration.
"Teacher content knowledge and the course curriculum get a lot of attention. The teacher's ability to build rapport with students often gets little or no attention, particularly at the high school level. I know that much of my success is because I invest time and energy into creating a sense of caring and community with my students. These are important components of being an effective teacher."
Any good teacher will tell you that there are differences between students as the years go by. Content knowledge and mastery are important, but rapport with students is built if you never lose the empathy of remembering what it was like to hear this information for the first time and understand that students require time to develop the fluency that you have with the subject. There are many ways to communicate sufficient content knowledge to assure that students have adequate understanding, not the least of which is to tie into the ethnic reality of who your students are. With the recent passing of Howard Zinn, the author of the very popular Peoples' History of the United States, the less than scintillating textbooks that many educators disparagingly call the history of dead White men can be augmented to include the history of people like the students that are sitting in your class. Math can be presented in theoretical form that loses the majority of your students or in the context of how it will be ultimately used by the student e.g. budgets, finance or building.
"I believe teachers need strong parental support and that support is built over time. Too often teachers can let one or two negative interactions color their perceptions of how much parents support them. In my career, I have received extremely negative parent phone calls or notes; however, with effort and multiple phone calls, I have been able to win over almost all of these parents and build trusting relationships. I believe the time we put into building positive relationships with our parents is worthwhile and helps my students succeed."
Many of us having been teaching long enough, so that we also taught the generation of parents of the students we presently have in class. If those parents have not been as successful as they could have been with a better education, they now understand the consequences that many of our students remain unwilling to deal with until it is too late. One of the best indicators of whether a school will be successful in creating a real culture of learning is how much honest commitment there is to bring the parents in as indispensable partners in their children's education. A night school program can also make the school a place where not only the student can get an education, but the parent can also return to school, so that they can be more gainfully employed, which will allow them to better parent their children while serving as a role model for real life-long learning.
From the expertise that you have gained on the frontline of urban public education, what specific 3 things define you as an educator and what would you implement to truly address the reality we face every day? Nobody is in a better position to define the direction true education reform should go than the certificated and classified personnel of LAUSD and other urban school districts throughout this country. Is it possible to have it your way at someplace other than Burger King?