I met a girl at a workshop last month whose name I cannot remember but I haven't forgotten her story. It was just part of our lunch conversation, getting to know each other, but I am reminded of it every time I hear someone gripe about education, say teachers need to be held accountable, that the United States is lagging behind other countries around the world in test scores...
After she graduated from college she began teaching at an inner-city school in Oklahoma City. The kids were poor, there was a lot of gang activity and fighting at school, the administration didn't back her up if she had a problem at school...it was like the opening scenes of an inspirational movie about education (Freedom Writers, for example) but the happy ending never came.
It didn't take her long to decide that teaching wasn't the job for her. She resigned at the end of the school year and got a job in an office. A few years later, she saw an ad in the newspaper about a new charter school hiring teachers. She applied, got the job and was back in education.
She has worked at the charter school for several years now getting paid below state base salary (and Oklahoma's base salary is 49th in the nation, next to the lowest teacher pay in the country), teaching children in poverty in the same basic area as her first school, but now she loves it. So what's different? These parents care about the education of their children. There is a lengthy application that parents must fill out to get their children considered for admission to the school. Students are then chosen at random from the applications. At school there are rules to follow and expectations to be met. Students need to be punctual, well rested, homework done, at school in time to eat or have breakfast at home and tend to business in class with minimal disruptions. Unlike public school, if these rules and expectations are ignored, the student loses his/her place in the school and it is given to the next student on the list. These parents want their children in this school and they do what it takes to keep them there.
I've thought a lot about her charter school story. How can we get all public school parents to care about their kids' education? Do we have to legislate that parents set a bedtime for their children and make sure they have breakfast before school starts? How is it fair that kids who want to learn have to be in class with kids who just want to disrupt the learning of others?
I don't have the answers to these questions but I do know teachers are not to blame. Teachers work hard and do their best to prepare students to be productive citizens in the future.
I would love to hear about how schools work where you live, especially in other parts of the world.