January 8, 2015
We rode in a car today…and it was good. Parking, on the other hand, was terrible.
Shuffling into the lobby of Cesar Chavez (a public charter school) we watched as a security guard scanned kids’ backpacks before entry. Coming from Williamsburg, VA, where the police officers drive smart cars, this type of screening was peculiar. Unlike the late 30s and up staff from Langley, Cesar Chavez had a fairly young staff of teachers. Now, there are arguments for both sides of the age spectrum. Some argue youth rejuvenates and drives innovative techniques. Others argue with age comes respect, routine, and resiliency. Personally, I support the teacher who’s students learn, enjoy, and retain information.
After pleasantries were exchanged, we awkwardly dispersed to find our own high school pupil. The students were working on their senior papers with topics ranging from cyber-bullying to HIV/AIDS. My student was writing about domestic violence and arguing against consensual sentencing. She raised a few good points about the vicious Stockholm syndrome victims go through preventing them from leaving toxic environments, how victims may not testify against their offender due to fear, and many more. Talking with the students I realized their ideas were brilliant, they just lacked the best tools to translate them onto paper. An underlying issue in schools with high minority populations is the impact of the student’s home life. For example, for Hispanic-American students whose primary language is Spanish, written assignments may come across in the phonetic equivalent of how they mentally talk rather than proper English.
This trickles into teacher diversity and the lack of student representation in the demographics of their educators. This is especially relevant when 82% of public school teachers across the United States were white in 2011-2012 (according to the National Center for Education Statistics) and, after 2014, minorities became the majority of public school students.
Coming from New Mexico where schools teach us both Spanish and English growing up, I was able to identify the Spanish substitutes of certain words in my student’s paper but some teachers can’t do that. For this reason and more, we argue for teacher reformation. As the fellas from NBPTS told us, teaching is about more than delivering information and managing a classroom, “it requires both head and heart.” Teachers need the mental capacity and expertise to differentiate a lesson based on the individual needs of the student and the humanity to openly learn from what the students contribute to the classroom.
After our brief time at Cesar Chavez had expired, Professor Drew presented the forum with the option of riding in the van vs. braving the metro. Within minutes the “dibs” won out and we were saved from the footsteps of ice and arctic wind of death. Next on the agenda was the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards or NBPTS for short.
Throughout discussion we were able to hear the evolution of being a teacher from, “Hell yeah! I’m changing the world,” to “I was so under-prepared with incomplete training that the students didn’t learn as much as they could.” A real, uncensored look into the teaching world from the NBPTS echoed similar sentiments the rest of us had been thinking.
- “We need to reshape how folks think of teaching; it’s a profession that requires real skills.”
-When teachers are in survival mode (due to incomplete preparation or lack of experience), they, too, can’t plan ahead past the here and now.
-Roughly 4 years of teaching practice provides enough experience that teacher feels safe to practice.
- “There need to be legit ladders out of poverty for a society that values education.”
-“Education isn’t limited to the classroom, but also the community they [the students and teachers] live in.”
- Society needs to commit to helping young people.
-“School isn’t as relevant or engaging as it could/should be.”
-“The core of teaching is relationships. You don’t teach content, you teach students.”
- “One of the dark sides of teaching is learned helplessness and blaming the policymaker.”
-Teaching Ambassador Programs help bridge the gap between policymakers and practitioners.
-“You have to fight for yourself [the teacher] and your students.”
-“If teaching is going to claim its rightful state as a true profession, then teachers and other practitioners must make sure their voice guides the work.”
You can find the five core propositions for the National Board, however, I believe the day could be summarized in one of the many great quotes from the speakers in response to our favorite question: What is the end goal of education?
“Every child be given equal opportunity to create a life that will sustain them and make them happy.”
~ Lynelle Haugabrook