Tuesday, September 18, 2012
What is education reform?
After I attended the recent TEACH conference with educators from around my school district, I did some soul searching of my own with consideration toward how our community can reform and improve our schools. We all know that our schools can do better. We also know that our community can do better. What we are not sure about is how we go about reaching out to build up our youth to create a productive citizenry who will lead our nation into the future. Reform is a nice word, but I believe that it has been perverted by political forces who choose to ignore the plethora of factors that hold so many people back and fail them in their quest to realize their potential. When I enter the classroom, I want to teach and my students want to learn. The so-called reformers do not understand that we are all in this together. What the so-called reformers demand is a more draconian approach that ignores the factors that impede true educational progress. For example, I know that I am surrounded by colleagues who toil daily to ensure that our students are able to meet and even exceed the standards that we must teach. The tests and assessments are excellent gauges of this work if they are applied properly. The problem arises when we have students who come to school in need of the basics, and I do not mean reading, writing and arithmetic. What I refer to is the fact that we have children in our city/county who come to school lacking food, clothing or shelter. We have children who live in circumstances that would make even the most hardhearted person take pause. Last year, I noticed that one of my students was not working up to her ability. I asked her in private what her problem was. She told me that, when she woke up that morning, she had nothing to eat for breakfast. How can I feed a mind when a child is starving? In response to this situation, I made a deal with this student that she would come to me whenever she needed a bite to eat in the morning and I would help to the best of my ability. This kind of intervention inspired me to begin a school-wide drive to collect simple breakfast foods for students in need to visit the guidance office and request when they begin the day with an empty stomach. We take for granted that the most important meal of the day is readily available for everyone. This is not true. Our nation believes in equality of opportunity and yet we still have children who are being written off by society because they have circumstances that cannot be simply erased with a government policy or initiative. This is why it is much easier for us to point fingers and accuse teachers of not doing their job. When we go above and beyond to assist our students, it will never be recognized because the work that we do beyond teaching children to fill in a ScanTron sheet is not something that is quantifiable. It is much easier to gauge teacher effectiveness by walking into a classroom and playing bean counter. Is this totally necessary? Not if reform is something that we do to educators and students. True reform is something that we do together to achieve a common goal. We tend to believe that systemic reform requires punishing people, kicking their butts and taking names. In my opinion, all we need are advocates and friends who can take the time to bring a box of Pop Tarts or breakfast bars to their community schools and truly fuel a child's appetite for learning.