Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Reality or excuse? In the end, does it matter?

Julie Mack of the Kalamazoo Gazette is an excellent educational writer who looks at issues objectively and then pens some very thoughtful posts: Is it fair to expect teachers in high-poverty schools to be miracle workers?

The school-reform movement — as embodied by No Child Left Behind — adopts a no-excuses approach to education. So while decades of research overwhelmingly indicate that academic outcomes are largely correlated with socio-demographics — and that white, middle-class and affluent children consistently test significantly better than low-income and minority students — No Child expects schools to achieve similar results no matter the student population.

While I certainly agree with her observations about the difficulties all of us who work in poor urban districts face, it should never become an obstacle to our constant desire for improving our profession and providing the best possible learning environment for all of our students, bar none. What it does is forces us to think outside the box (I know that's becoming a tired cliche) to find new ways to overcome as many of these obstacles as we can in the time we have with our kids.

At the end of the day, we may go home a little more tired, a little more bloodied and bruised, but with the deep satisfaction that we did our very best to meet their diverse learning needs.

Friday, September 9, 2011

In an Instant, Everything Changed

I was an intermediate school principal with 450+ fifth and sixth graders when 19 terrorists and four hijacked planes shocked the world with a devastating attack on America. I still recall that morning, coming out of my office to see news pictures on the school office television showing live footage of one of the towers burning. Minutes later, the second tower erupted in an explosion and somehow we knew the world was going to be different.

Some weeks following the 9/11 attacks, I was invited to watch one of our 6th graders skate in competition at a local ice rink. Curious and wanting to show my support to this young lady and her parents, I went and found a seat in the back of the cold, dark arena. Imagine for a moment a die-hard Detroit Red Wing fan watching competitive figure skating and you might have to stifle a laugh, but I was taken back by the athletic precision demonstrated that night.

For a concluding number, all of the girls performed a synchronized salute in honor of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. The performance was backed by Enya's "Only Time," a soul-searing number that when combined with the beauty of their skating touched me deeply to the point that there is rarely a day I don't recall that evening. For a time after I thought about that night and often wondered why it affected me as much as it did. It took time but I finally came to grips and realized that at that moment, I knew that for these young girls and their generation, everything had changed. Just 12 years old, Kaitlin and her partner's lives would forever be impacted by the consequences of that horrible day.