Sunday, March 7, 2010
The Celebration of Teaching and Learning
Enter into the Hilton, New York and climb up the escalators. All around you are teachers with canvas bags rushing towards the doors of the Grand Ballroom.
They want to see Arne Duncan and Richard Riley talk about education today. The elder statesman, Riley, is wise and full of information. Mr. Duncan looks like an aging boy - athletic, vibrant, confident and full of innovative ideas.
As far as Arne Duncan's words - there was a lot I agreed with: the need for support for teacher leadership with the creation of different pathways for master teachers to share their knowledge and experience with new teachers and colleagues. I believe that we must help all children succeed - it's a national emergency when so many young people continue to slip through the cracks! I also was happy that Mr. Duncan reported that, unlike "No Child Left Behind," the newly revised Education and Secondary School Act (ESEA) offers a vision for the measurement of a student's growth, rather than evaluation through a single high stakes assessment that excludes many students.
Secretary Duncan talked about a student entering fifth grade, with a first grade reading level and reaching the third grade level by the end of the school year. "That's success," said the Secretary. We all enjoyed hearing that. Troubling, though, is how difficult it is to measure this type of growth.
Though it was exciting to see our Secretary of Education in person, I was left with the troubling feeling that we have much to resolve. Rhode Island, for example, is currently dealing with a school closure which is following the "turnaround strategies" that are being advocated. We have all heard of hard-working teachers in that school dealing with limited resources and a challenged student population. The result of their hard work is a slap in the face instead of much needed resources and help.
The next day, I saw Queen Latifa masterfully moderate a youth dialog with high school students. The students spoke on issues that were important to them - the impact of the community on their lives, aspects of a quality teacher, and what excites or bores them about learning.
The most compelling moment was at the end of the discussion when one student panelist, with his peppy little bow tie and serious glasses, was asked to give advice to the teachers in the audience.
"You should remember," he said, with the glittering eyes of an old soul, "that what you do with your students is literally a matter of life and death. I'm serious, life and death."
Perhaps before we close a school we might talk to some of the young people who attend these institutions, with their parents and with the teachers who work every day to try to lift their students out of disadvantaged situations. Perhaps we might try to innovate in place, to create energy in exhausted institutions by infusing them with people and programs - fresh legs to inspire and create movement around institutional and student growth. Maybe we should start to trust communities to recreate themselves, using the foundations of the old, to build upon.
Antonio Machado, a Spanish poet, talked about a dying Oak tree in his classic poem, "To an old Oak Tree." He talked about the fading Oak and its inner decay, the sad and softened bark falling to the earth. Machado ends his poem by saying, that despite the vision of destruction that the Oak has become, "a few green leaves were sprouting."
Maybe that would happen to our dying schools if we nourished them and gave them the support that they needed to succeed.