Monday, August 29, 2011

I Am A Teacher, Not A Surrogate Parent

Richard Rothstein wrote an excellent piece on education reform at Slate.  There are a number of things I would like to respond to, but highest on the list had to do with "super-teachers."  American educational reform is very focused right now on developing and hiring teachers who can bring to educational proficiency anything thrown at them.

In the article, Rothstein states that these educational reformers put on pedestals teachers like Jessica Reid:

"A Teach for America recruit, she engages each of her Harlem fifth-graders in Shakespeare, phones parents about missed assignments, and works into the night tutoring students, meeting parents, and creating ingenious displays for the following day's lessons. It's teachers like her who propel the most-disadvantaged children on to college. But such teachers can work their wonders only in non-union charter schools that are free to fire summarily those who, though well-meaning, are less than extraordinary."

I get this kind of teacher thrown into my face rather regularly when discussing the issue of educational reform.  The thought is that, regardless of a student's circumstances, a super-teacher can get past all the hindrances a student may have.  These teachers can leap poverty neighborhoods in a single bound!  Just look at all that teachers like Reid do!

Let's look at what she is doing.  She is working with the parents of her students and spends her evenings on the phone with them.  She tutors those students into the night.  She spends countless after school hours on lessons and assessments.

You might wonder how long someone can keep up a pace like that.

Apparently, not very long.  According to the article:

"Jessica Reid, quit her charter school job. She had worked days, nights, and weekends in a superhuman, often frustrating effort to prove that effective teaching alone could overcome the obstacles of child poverty. At 26, she found her role in the fanatical charter school crusade was taking too high a toll on her marriage and her own sense of balance."

Simply put, as much as she enjoyed teaching... she also wanted to give time to her family and her life.  Super-teaching quickly wreaks havoc on one's own family.

I think the article misses the point when it insinuates that it was "effective teaching" that was making the difference.  Was it really just the teaching?  What about all of the after-hours commitment with those students?  She was essentially being a surrogate parent to those families - spending time with both parents and children; and getting THEM focused on education.  She was doing for those families what the PARENTS should have been doing.

I have taught in wealthy and poverty schools.  In either circumstance, I found this to be generally true:  Show me a parent who is intentional about their child's education and I will show you a kid who is doing well.  Show me a parent who is ambivalent about their child's education, or simply can't make that time happen, and I will show you a student who struggles.

America can keep dreaming of super-teachers who will make all of their problems go away.  Teachers who will spend evenings tutoring their children, making sure they are read to, review their homework... Who knows, maybe we can even get the super-teacher to do the windows.

Here is a reality check my dear America.... I have my own children who need my attention.  They need me to read to them, review their homework, play outside with them, be a Dad.  My wife needs me tending to my family in the evening... not spending it on the phone or back in my school's neighborhood tending to others.

This is why I am still in teaching after 20 years.  I keep it all in perspective and I maintain life balance.  I know when to say no.

I watch the super-teachers come and go.  No one can be a surrogate parent to all of those needy children.  I love my students.  They get my very best teaching when I am at school.  But they don't get my life... that is reserved for my family.

I truly love teaching... but I already have a family in which I am the parent.

I hope America can refocus its efforts before they drive every good and hard working teacher from poverty areas.


Kiley said...

I LOVE your assessment of this "super-teacher" push soooo much. I was a Teach for America teacher and there is no way to maintain that kind of work schedule for long without serious consequences to mind, body, and soul... Many of us made it through our two years seriously traumatized.

Steve H. said...

Very good post bro... its amazing how much we agree when the words "evangelical" or "Christian" are not in the post

Andrew said...

Thanks Sulli - You are the second person I have spoke to this week that was part of that program. My friend also stated that, though it was fulfilling, it was not the kind of thing anyone could maintain over time. Unfortunately that kind of thing has been the crux of most educational reform... unsustainable solutions. Not surprising, most of what America is doing at the moment is unsustainable.

Steve - Yep, there may be something to the old adage of not discussing religion or politics. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm a parent first, a teacher second. When a grandmother was furious with me because I did not attend an after school parent teacher conference, I asked her where were the child's parents? She responded it was none of my business. I replied I have a family to support and that she could visit me during my 705 AM planning period. She hung up.

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