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Thoughts on school reform

October 13, 2010 1 comment

With Waiting for Superman making box office waves, school reform is a hot media topic again.  This Sunday’s Washington Post had several opinion articles on how to reform schools, and while I’ve never thought any 1,000-word article held the secret to fixing our schools, I’m even less convinced of it now that I’m in the classroom.  I’ve only been in school for 26 days, but here’s what I already know:

  1. I work in a well-respected, well-funded district.
  2. I work for a principal described as “brilliant” and “the best possible mentor.”
  3. I work with a remarkably intelligent, dedicated, thoughtful, positive group of teachers.
  4. I am in the top percentile of all entering teachers based on academic qualifications and am a confident, experienced classroom manager.
  5. Teaching is absolutely, positively, the hardest thing I have ever done.

So if a well-prepared new teacher entering a well-led school in a well-run district with a strong group of colleagues can barely make a go of teaching a high-needs populations…how do we even start to address the nation’s education problems?  If between my background and my in-school support system I am barely holding on, how can any new teacher hope to help the kids that most need it?Conversations about school reform inevitably lead back to “hire more qualified teachers” or “increase teacher training,” but I’m well-trained and well-qualified and I’m not sure it’s enough.  I believe I’m doing better than many new teachers would, but I’m also acutely aware of how much more my kids need that I don’t know how to give them.

And despite all of the time, money, sweat and tears I put into becoming a teacher, I shy away from talking about “next year.”  I’ll see how this year goes.  I’ll see if this is a life I think I can keep on living.  That’s one of the things we have to talk about when we talk about school reform: it’s very, very hard to teach well.  It takes working long, long beyond the contract hours, puzzling over lesson plans instead of falling asleep, and thinking constantly about where each kid is and what he or she needs to be successful.  It won’t be enough to hire more qualified teachers or offer more training – we’ll have to figure out how to ease some of the burden good teachers carry, since we can’t build school reform on the premise that we’ll have willing martyrs.

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