The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. -Martin Luther King Jr.

Waiting for Superman…there is very little you could do in 2 hours that would be as valuable as watching this movie.  Even if it is just for information, it’s worth your time to be educated about what’s happening in our schools.  And it might just motivate you to act.

If you have kids in school you need to watch Waiting for Superman.

If you are a teacher you need to watch Waiting for Superman.

If you have nieces, nephews, cousins, grandchildren, or friends in school you need to watch Waiting for Superman.

If you have kids that are going to be or were in school you need to watch Waiting for Superman.

If you went to school you need to watch Waiting for Superman.

If you have a heart you need to watch Waiting for Superman.

It is amazing how little people who don’t work in a school actually know about what’s happening inside the walls where their children spend 7+ hours a day.  There is a school in each neighborhood and yet if they were transparent you would be shocked and saddened about what happens on a daily basis, mere blocks away from your home.

I have heard the argument that this film is not in support of teachers.  That’s a load of lies.  Teachers that are worth their salary welcome the opportunity to show what they are doing, learn how to teach more effectively for ALL their students, and are not intimidated by having their performance measured.

As I was watching this movie I was getting angry, really angry.  If you watch this movie and your heart doesn’t break you need to go to your doctor and make sure that you still have one in your chest.  I have always believed in the ability of ALL students to learn and my students tests scores reflected my belief.

Is it easy?  Um…no.

Is it worth it? YES!

There is nothing more powerful than a great teacher and there is nothing more destructive than a bad teacher.

I was forced into resigning from my job even though I was a good teacher on the way to becoming a great teacher.  I was informed that my performance as far as the ability to teach kids was excellent.  The reason I am no longer in a classroom had nothing to do with my performance as a teacher.  The reason I was forced into leaving my classroom is very complicated and convoluted.  I’m not sure I understand it completely even today and I probably never will.

A huge part of it was the fact that I wasn’t the “typical” teacher.  When a student walked into my classroom that child became MY responsibility.  Their success in school, academically and behaviorally, was on my shoulders and I did whatever it took to make sure they were successful until the day they walked out of my classroom for the last time.  Even after they leave they are ALWAYS MY kids and I will do whatever I can for them.

Their failure was my fault and their success was their victory.  If they failed, it was because I hadn’t provided the opportunities for that particular child to be successful.  I have never met a child who couldn’t succeed at high levels and it was my job to figure out the path they needed to take to get there.

I wasn’t successful with 100% of my kids (in a typical class I would have 2-3 students that I didn’t feel I was doing a good job as their teacher), but I never stopped trying.

That meant I did things differently than the average teacher.  When a kid misbehaved on the bus I rode the bus with them so I could demonstrate and teach what I expect from them on the bus.  When a kid got suspended from the bus I walked the kid home so they would understand the consequence of their actions if they couldn’t ride the bus.  When I found out that a kid didn’t have books at home I rectified that situation.  If a student was falling behind I would go in early, leave late, use my prep and lunch time to tutor that student or set up times to teach the parents how to tutor their child.  When parents couldn’t make it to conferences I went to their house so we could celebrate their child’s success.  I attended football, baseball, and basketball games.  I cheered for kids that were successful in other activities outside of school.  I provided food, school supplies, clothes, winter gear and anything else kids needed that I could get my hands on.

I would do anything that was within my control for my students.

This made some of the other staff very uncomfortable.  I still don’t have a clear understanding of why that was.  I didn’t want to write about myself as a teacher, but it was really, REALLY hard to watch this documentary about teachers who don’t care and kids are being left behind.  I know for certain that I am valuable asset to kids and not allowed to teach in my district because I went above and beyond.  And that kills me.

Anyone trying to do things differently is a threat to the old way, I guess.  Even if the new way is better.  I was told time after time that I shouldn’t do anything extra outside of my contract because then it would be expected.  When we supervised students some teachers would leave at the moment their time was completed as written in their contract even if this meant leaving students unattended.  I stayed.  I stayed with kids until their parents came to pick them up so they wouldn’t wait alone.  I remember growing up, if my mom was late, I was so scared.  I never wanted my kids to feel scared.  I wanted them to know and trust I was going to make sure they stayed safe.

I tried to be the kind of teacher I would want for Finn.  Every child deserves a teacher who treats them as if they were hand picked by that child’s parent.

Teachers don’t go into teaching for the money, we don’t even go into teaching for the “summers off.”  Any teacher that is any good went into teaching because they care for kids and want to be a small part of making that child successful, giving them a path to a better life.  Of course there are bad teachers, as you could find bad examples in any profession.

However, if a teacher is good or even average they won’t be threatened by being judged on their performance.  They would welcome that challenge to grow and improve.  The teachers that scream and holler about being judged by their performance should be carefully scrutinized.  Those are the teachers we all should be very worried about getting tenure or teaching our kids.

This “job for life” idea is ridiculous to me.  If a doctor no longer provides their patients with the best care, they won’t have a job.  If lawyers lose cases, no one is going to hire them.  It says in the movie once you get hired all you have to do is show up and 2-3 years later you’ll be granted tenure and be set for life.

I lost my job and therefore wasn’t granted tenure so obviously I didn’t find this to be true for myself.  I did much more than show up and I would have continued to push and challenge myself to meet the needs of my students in any and all ways.  Before a teacher is tenured (if the administration is paying attention) they can be fired for any reason or no reason at all.  Once a teacher is tenured they have to literally hit a kid to be fired.

We all should be outraged that good and great teachers are fired because they challenge the system and do things differently and bad teachers that believe in the status quo go on with no resistance.

If I had stayed inside the “typical” teacher lines that had been drawn by the district I would teaching at this moment instead of writing this.

Every single child in this country deserves a great teacher in a great school so we need to do whatever it takes to make sure that happens.

I live in a town with an excellent school district.  I am a product of this district as is my sister, my friends, my husband, and someday my son will be.  As I’ve learned more and taught in the district for 5 years I know that kids are lucky to go to school in this district.  If kids put forth the effort, they will be successful.  I truly believe that.

However, as I have learned more I also realized that our schools are set up to best serve white middle class kids.  Rochester has a rapidly growing immigrant population.  There are some schools in the district where white, middle class kids are the minority.  I taught in one of those schools.  There are great teachers in those schools.  Many, many great teachers.  There are some not so great teachers.  As I have observed and participated in this district I have come to understand the kids that aren’t white and middle class aren’t being served to the best of our ability.

If your child is in school, your child has had teacher and will have teachers that “track” your child.  Based off subjective assessments your child is assigned an intelligence.  In some classrooms, no matter how your child performs, they will always be considered capable or not based on an assumption the teacher made at the beginning of the year.  Think they will get a fresh start next year at least?  Unfortunately, probably not.  At the end of the year your child’s current teacher will fill out a paper on your child that passes their assumption and stereotypes about your child onto their next teacher.

I refused to read those papers until a month into school, only after I had gotten to know the students and had my own opinions, formed from my experience with that child.  The least we can give our kids is a fresh start each year.  I also assess and rearrange my groups every 4-6 weeks.  This shows the kids that with hard work they can make a change and if they don’t put forth their best effort, there will be a consequence for that as well.

You don’t think racism exists?  Look into a school and you will see it’s alive and well.  I saw groups that were created by ignoring test scores and grouping them according to stereotypes, which often have a lot more to do with the color of their skin and their behavior than their abilities.

Once an assumption is made, it is very hard for a child to change how they are seen.  One of the other reasons I was forced to resign was because I was fighting for my students who no longer needed remedial classes.  We give kids extra help to get them caught up…but what happens is they are identified as “slow” and are always thought of in that light, it is nearly impossible to get them out of remedial classes.

Finn is going to be successful at school even though he will have a handful of not great teachers.  Josh and I will make sure he is successful.  If there’s something Josh and I can’t do (if we need someone to pick him up from school for a week and help with homework while we are on vacation…I can dream), his grandparents, aunts and uncles will happily step up and offer a helping hand.

That is not the case for all kids in this district.  As soon as kids start to fail, the schools begin to fail the kid.  We are not equipped to best serve the immigrant families that make up a large portion of our schools.  We don’t teach organization, study skills, or how to help your child be successful even if the parents CAN read, write, and speak English.

Does that mean I love Finn more than those parents love their kids?  That is an idiotic idea.  Of course every kid has parents and family that loves them and wants them to be successful but don’t have the tools to provide that for their child at home for a variety of reasons.  That doesn’t reflect the love and care or even the dream they have for their child.

I know of and taught with bad teachers.  I felt very sad for the kids that were unlucky enough to get these teachers.

There are a handful of bad teachers in each school unless you look at the failing schools often in the neediest towns.  In those school there are a handful of good teachers, typically.

You’re thinking…I don’t have kids in school…why should I care about this?

You should care because criminals are manufactured in horrendous schools.  Kids get the message that they aren’t important and no one cares about them.  They walk into a prison each day, not a school.  There is a police officer as soon as they walk into school not a teacher with a smile and hug wishing them good morning.  They walk through metal detectors and have their backpack searched.

If I went to a job and that’s how I started my day…I wouldn’t be motivated to do my best.  If someone shows me they don’t trust me or think I am of value…I don’t have time for them and I certainly am not going to LEARN from them.  Yet that’s how we expect kids to perform each day in school and we can’t comprehend why they don’t learn.  This is how we ask them to perform at their job.  And make no mistake, school is their job.

Even if you only care about yourself, it is of the utmost importance that we take care of kids and make sure they get educated.  It will reduce crime, create jobs, reduce teen pregnancy, reduce the number of people that depend on public assistance, and on and on.  There is not one thing that you could find that wouldn’t benefit from all kids getting a great education.

We will pay the bill either way.  We can pay less now or more later.  The choice is ours.

We could send each child to private school K-12 grade for $8,000 each year and still give them about $24,000 for college for less than it costs to incarcerate them.  We will be doing one or the other.  The choice is ours.  What’s your vote?

Every single child in this country (in the world actually…but that’s another rant for another day) deserves the best education.  Period.  End of story.  I will do whatever it takes to make sure that Finn has a first class education and I know you will do the same for your child.  The time for excuses has passed.  We will all be judged not only by what we provide for our own children but also for all children.  Let’s advocate for kids since they can’t advocate for themselves.  I promise you won’t regret it.  Satisfaction guaranteed.

Our school system is set up for providing an endless supply of factory workers and a handful of professionals.  However, we no longer need factory workers.  We need a college educated work force.  We know what works.  There are schools that are succeeding with kids that everyone thought couldn’t learn.  These kids are outperforming white kids from middle class families.

Each child can and will learn if that is the expectation and they are given the support needed.  It is being done in charter schools across the country with the neediest kids.  We can no longer say we don’t know what the answer is.  Now that we know the answer and we need to demand it for our children and for all children.

We should be offended that teachers who go above and beyond, think outside the box, and produce scores lose their jobs while teachers who show up and don’t push boundaries for themselves or their students have a job they can’t be fired from.

We should be ashamed that kids need to win the lottery to attend a great school with great teachers.

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4 Responses to The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  1. I’ve been looking for time to watch that movie. I think I’ll step up the motive now. Thanks.

    You won’t be disappointed!
    :) Kate
    Sprite’s Keeper recently posted..The Dimosaur DisclaimerMy Profile

  2. Linda says:

    I have not seen the movie, but I do agree with your comment about what a difference an excellent teacher can make.

    When my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Conard, found me on FB, she remembered my book report on “Mystery of the Green Cat.” Her encouragement then and now is what motivated me to start writing again.

    I have no doubt you were that kind of teacher, too… and will be again. : )

    Hugs to you.

  3. Kate says:

    I recommend the movie…obviously! Teachers have had such an effect on my life, that’s why I wanted to be one as well. Not sure I’m going to be standing up in front of a classroom again, ever, but I will find a way to work with kids FOR SURE!

  4. maggie says:

    those clips made me cry :(
    i’ll definitely add that film to my ‘to see’ list.
    I know I was fortunate with my education, and I know my mum made sure of it (she sent me to the catholic school, despite her strong aversion to the church, because she felt i’d be in a better environment and receive a better education.). I know I was lucky with some of the teacher’s I had, and the support I received. Without that ground work I may not have been able to get to university – I would never have been able to afford higher education without scholarships, many of which are based on grades.

    What strikes me most about this post, however, and all of your posts about education, is how incrediably passionate you are about this issue. It’s awe inspiring. Any child would be beyond fortunate to have you as a teacher. Any parent would be blessed to have you as their child’s teacher. That you are so passionate, so committed, and yet unable to do this job which you were clearly meant to be doing, is unbelievably frustrating for me as a reader of this blog. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around how frustrating it is for you :(

    Please never let your passion die. Don’t ever give up hope. Keep believing a change is possible. Even if somehow you never end up teaching in a traditional sense again, you are inspiring the people who read your blog, and you will be raising your children with the same beliefs and ideals. Change has to happen, and it may not happen as quickly as some of us would like, but if we keep believing, and keep striving for it, change will happen.

    I believe that many people are blessed to have good schools in their neighborhood if their parents are also their advocates. However, the kids that most need access to great education, don’t get it. Therefore, the cycle of poverty continues which perpetrates many other stereotypes and ills of our society such as racism.

    I think it’s easier to say change will happen eventually when it’s not our kids. If someone told me that change would happen and the school system would be perfect, but it would be too late for Finn, I wouldn’t be too happy with that. However, I know it can’t happen overnight…but on the same hand, if there weren’t all these things standing in the way, it would be much easier to solve the issues quickly!!

    :) Kate

    maggie recently posted..Breaking Things on Purpose is Very SatisfyingMy Profile

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