End of Year Thoughts

Although my year is for most purposes over (thank God!), due to extremely weird district policy, I technically have a week of school remaining. It’s really bizarre; the kids have already taken their finals. My grades are due in Wednesday morning. And yet, the students are still technically supposed to be in class until Friday. You might wonder, why doesn’t the district just move finals until the last day of school? That’s a fantastic question. No one seems to know.

In any case, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the state of urban education, inspired by the fact that it is the end of my first year, there have been some pretty significant happenings in my district, and I have been reading a lot about urban education. Here’s what I wrote on my Teach For America end of year survey, which pretty much sums up my thoughts:

Urban education takes a focus on developing children in a very holistic way. When students come to my Algebra I class, they are often severely lacking not only in math preparation, but also in social skills and effective work habits. It is necessary to teach so many things that I took for granted that I expected of the typical 9th grader. In many ways, it’s necessary to be an extra parent.

Many of my students are not used to being held to a rigorous standard of academic work, and it has been a major challenge finding the right level of expectations for a diverse class. I have also learned that along with high expectations, I as a teacher need to provide I high level of support in order for my students to achieve.

The vast majority of my students really want to achieve, but that most of them are unaware of how much rigor and discipline success requires. I feel like this is probably the single most important thing I can teach my students, because with discipline, they can achieve in any subject.

The sad thing is that although pushing my students to a much level of achievement would be a major accomplishment, so many students graduate high schools in Baltimore only to be woefully unprepared for college level work. Very few of these students are going on to four-year colleges, and even fewer are finishing their degrees in five years or less. The book A Hope In The Unseen by Ron Suskind is a great illustration of this issue.

Many people criticize TFA for not being the answer to the problem of urban education. They argue that most TFA teachers come in to the classroom, leave after 2 years, before they become truly proficient in the classroom, and move on to something “bigger and better”. And to a certain extent, I agree. All students do deserve great teachers, and no 1st or 2nd year teacher has possibly reached their potential. But I’ve come to believe that even if you could put an excellent teacher in every classroom a low-income student visits, that student would still be at a major disadvantage. The inequalities go way beyond the classroom. I think the organization realizes this, which is why they emphasize the two-year commitment. They hope that corps members will go on to career areas where they can hopefully lead in making the systematic changes these kids need. This seems to be the growing consensus. Projects like the Harlem Children’s Zone are proving it. Still, teachers are the people on the front lines, and good teachers will always be necessary. Consequently, the issues of teacher retention and the controversy of Teach For America are not likely to fade away.

Check out these articles for some recent press on TFA in Baltimore:

“City wants to expand ‘Teach for America’ program”
by Liz Bowie
Mon, May 25
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/education/bal-md.teach25may25,0,1460323.story

Inside Ed
Sun Blog
Tues, May 26
http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/education/blog/2009/05/teach_for_america_and_baltimor.html

Baltimore Sun
“City Funds sought for Teach For America”
Weds, May 27
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/baltimore_city/bal-md.briefs273may27,0,4909764.story

Baltimore Sun
“Teach For Baltimore” Editorial
Thurs, May 28
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/editorial/bal-ed.teach28may28,0,1892836.story

WBAL/NBC
Mon, May 25 5:15 PM EDT
Video: Play Clip

WJZ/CBS
Eyewitness News at 5
Mon, May 25 05:34 PM EDT
Video: Play Clip
Web article: http://wjz.com/local/baltimore.teachers.teach.2.1018555.html

WBFF/FOX 45
Mon, May. 25, 11:04 PM EDT
Video: Play Clip
Web article: http://www.foxbaltimore.com/template/inews_wire/wires.regional.md/3fb92708-www.foxbaltimore.com.shtml

WMAR/ABC
ABC2 News Good Morning Maryland
Tues, May 26 6:52 AM EDT
Video: Play Clip
Web article:http://www.abc2news.com/news/local/story/Alonso-Wants-More-Teach-For-America-Candidates/xEzIbS3H7EC03RCs3JPgZQ.cspx

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