This might sound crazy, but I’m a teacher who doesn’t care about school reform.
Sure, I follow the Edweek blogs, the articles, the Twittersphere, the research, the news. “School Reform” is everywhere. I just don’t think we have the right idea of what that is.
If you go to those blogs, those policy advocates’ Twitter profiles, or the news, you will see a lot of lies and myths disguised as panaceas to ‘closing the educational gap.’ Teacher performance pay. Ipads for everyone. Internet for everyone. Replacing schools with online classes. Charter schools. Teacher evaluation. Of course all of these are a part of the reality of education.
And the belle of the ball…
Increased frequency and duration of standardized testing.
I’ve had some conversations over this break that have been revealing about the way I think the public views students in poverty in the classroom. People ask my about my job and what I do in it, and I respond about the challenges as well as good things that happen. I try to make my job sound hopeful. And it is hopeful, most of the time. I don’t let my doubts of my effectiveness show through during these conversations.
And then I hear, “well, if you can reach just one, you’ve done your job.”
All of these statements are well-meaning, coming from the heart of a cliché we’ve all probably said or heard. The challenges and struggles of those in poverty seem insurmountable. It’s something I used to believe—even when I became a real teacher. I used to be ecstatic if I had fifty percent of students on-task, declaring it a victory because I couldn’t make them want to learn. It’s true that you can’t force learning, but you can surely innovate in ways to increase your engagement. I was failing with this tenet of teaching. Fifty percent is failing. As I improved my skills and rapport with the students, this on-task engagement has risen dramatically. It’s not always 100 percent, but it’s up there. And I had to work at it (reading Teach Like a Pirate helped). The defeatist mentality isn’t helpful when you teach teenagers. They will eat you alive.
At some point what I had heard about “if they don’t care to learn, then you can’t teach them” instantly linked itself to “well, if you can reach just one…”
This is Geoffrey Canada, founder and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone in NYC. The organization has helped and is helping many children in Harlem rise above their circumstantial poverty and finish high school and even college. You may have seen him in Waiting For “Superman,” a documentary that shows how charter schools are what many communities are resorting to so their children can have a “quality” education (whatever that is.)