Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Waiting for Superman

Yesterday I watched a documentary called, "Waiting for Superman." Have you seen it?  Here's the trailer:

As I sat watching this film, I had so many things swirling around in my mind.  I thought about all of the great public school teachers I know and how hard they work in order to give their students everything they can.  I'm grateful to have known them too, because they were the reason that I grew. We learned from each other.  I wasn't the best music teacher in Norman, but there really wasn't much I wouldn't do for those kids.  Teaching was my life and because of that, I wanted to improve as a teacher. One thing that I loved that Michelle Rhee said was that it is a privilege to work with kids.  If you're a teacher and you don't believe that, you're in the wrong job and you need to get out. NOW!

It's not often that I will write something negative in this blog and I really don't believe that saying you need to find a different vocation is a negative thing.  Change has to take place.  Kids all over the world deserve the best from us and if you're not willing to give it, move on and find your passion. You'll be of more help to this world and your community if you do. You'll probably be happier as well.

I believe that it's an honor to work with kids.  In doing so, it's likely that you'll learn more than you teach.  You recognize your own strengths and weaknesses in your students and as you help them, you help yourself.  You find that you love beyond what you ever thought you could and you take the kids' struggles home with you, whether you should or not. You meditate at night before you go to sleep on ways in which you can help and make a change in their lives. You can't help yourself.  I imagine it's a lot like being a parent.

When I was working at the Museum, Oklahoma City's KIPP School came for a tour.  The whole school came! We were holding the awesome Harlem Renaissance exhibit and I can remember while the group was outside waiting for the Museum to open, every single student was in a straight line, reading a book.  It was so quiet and every kid was on task.  As they entered the building and then the theater, they were polite, respectful and attentive.  They listened as we welcomed them and told them about the exhibit.  They were gracious and kind.  Their teachers and leaders also modeled this behavior and I couldn't have been more impressed or grateful.  After they toured the exhibit, our docents said they were impressed as well.

We had seen a tour group right around the same time from a very affluent school where the teachers were rude to me.  They were talking instead of paying attention to their students in the theater and as a result, the students were riding up and down the elevator to to the admin area, running up and down the stairs, yelling the whole time.  They were also doing this in the theater.  When I had to interrupt the teachers' conversation to ask them to please watch over their students and told them what their kids were doing (high school kids, mind you!) the teachers got mad and yelled at me.  I was really surprised.  If that had happened when I was teaching, I would have been embarrassed that I hadn't been more on top of things.  But I write this story because I want to show the difference a teacher can make.  In fact, it's the teacher that makes all the difference.

The KIPP program is something I believe in, but as the film says, we need to be giving the opportunity to all students.  The chance for a great education isn't something that should be so rare that people have to play a lottery to get it.  It broke my heart to see how badly the kids in this film wanted to go to a school where they would get what they needed in order to go to college...and then didn't get in.  I fully believe that kids need an educational experience where they are givin what they need for success and the encouragement to be their best.  They need the challenge and the discipline.  Those that we see as lazy or that have tuned out, need our extra best so that they can find pride and intrinsic motivation to learn. Tears flowed and anger grew when I saw the segment in the film about tenured teachers who couldn't be fired, but had legal issues for misconduct, just sitting around in a room all day for months, still drawing a paycheck and costing the state and nation so much money that could be put towards education.  But would the government actually give it to education anyway?

I'm angered by the fact that so much has been cut from our state education budget that Oklahoma kids and teachers are suffering.  I read an article a few weeks ago when I was at the cabin about the programs that are affected by these cuts and it seems to me that Oklahoma is going backwards. Our kids are missing out on experiences that give them what they need and our teachers are too.  I can't believe that field trips, funds for Oklahoma A+ Schools and provisions to help teachers become Nationally Board Certified have been stripped. Outside experiences, the arts, good teachers and their professional development are key to giving students what they have to have!!!!

I know that there are many sides to all of the issues presented in this film.  I'm sure that there are people reading this that could argue for tenure, teachers' unions, the fact that  no school can be all things to all people, and the fact that KIPP or other programs mentioned in this film might not work for everyone. Another issue is that standardized test scores are at the heart of some of these programs so therefore they revolve around math and science. Where is the issue of keeping the arts mentioned in this film?  I think I heard Michelle Rhee speak about it once when she said that because of her changes, the DC schools were finally able to have an art teacher, a music teacher and a PE teacher at every site.  That was it.  But at least it was mentioned and I'm sure that's a different documentary.

I know that what I want to accomplish at 612 isn't going to cure our state's education problems.  I'm not the brilliant mind that will be able to balance a budget and please all people.  But what I am happy about is the fact that I am going to use my life and my resources to contribute to helping fill a tiny part of the huge gap.  Because in the end, it's the students that matter.  We have to do better for the kids in this state.  Do what you can people. And to all of you teachers out there who get up every day and give it your all, you're my hero. Thank you.

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