Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Losing Faith

"I've always been a supporter of public school."

That's me. I believe in the dream of public school. I have always enjoyed working with a melting pot of students, including those who don't have all the advantages that society can offer. I still carry the name of a student that I almost ten years ago.

He was hanging around late after school one day. I had him one period a day and I had only been at the school for about a month, so I didn't really know him. But I knew that school, at least my class, wasn't a big priority for him. I wanted him to know that I cared and maybe that would motivate him to care about school.

We've all heard the stories and seen the movies of inspirational teachers working in an inner city school who turn kids around. So, I asked him if he needed a ride home. He said, "Yeah." So we set out across town and he hopped out of the car in front of a non-descript apartment building. I looked up his mom's phone number the next day and wrote it on a note card next to his name. I tried to call her but only got a machine. I told my mentor about it the next day and she cautioned that it wasn't a very smart move on my part. I knew that, but wanted to take the risk - in hopes of a big payoff. The payoff never came.

That is the end of the story. He wasn't in school the rest of the year. I found out that he got in trouble and was possible being put in "lock up," juvenile detention. He didn't come back the next year either, but I still carry around that postcard in my briefcase. It reminds me that I believe in the power of public education and a caring teacher to save a struggling kid.

So why have my wistful thoughts of education turned to private schools? In conversations with teacher friends over the last two days we have bemoaned the national focus on testing. In the school system where my kids attend teachers are given a pacing guide which tells them exactly what to teach on each day of the school year. Now if that won't suck the creativity out of teaching, I don't know what will. We have shared stories of teachers unwilling to challenge students with creative and innovative assignments. Schools, some of the best in the public school system, where students only use technology once a week. Where teachers have third graders coloring hand-written brochures instead of designing them in Word or Publishers.

Then come the stories of private schools where teachers are freed from the bonds of testing. Where class sizes are small and innovation is encouraged. Teachers challenge their students to create real content, connect to the world outside the classroom and apply technology in meaningful ways. Doesn't it sound good?!

I don't want to give up on public education, but I need to see there is hope. Show me that the accountability pendulum is beginning to swing the other way. Point out examples of great innovation and stellar teaching. If you see hopeful signs, please share them. If you have ideas for how to shift the thinking of the education establishment, please tell me. I want to keep my faith alive.

"After view of my classroom" image by LizMarie

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