Sunday, January 21, 2007

Another Miracle

If you read the New York Times, you were probably as shocked as I was to find an op-ed written by a real teacher this week (Leave it to that liberal media to assume a teacher might know something about education). The teacher in question is none other than Tom Moore, who writes I Who Can't, and who had me hooked with a series he wrote for Slate a few years back.

Mr. Moore makes the points that few, if any, of us are what Hillary Swank is on the screen, and that the conditions of school movies rarely approach reality.

Films like “Freedom Writers” portray teachers more as missionaries than professionals, eager to give up their lives and comfort for the benefit of others, without need of compensation. Ms. Gruwell sacrifices money, time and even her marriage for her job.

I frequently read commenters who expect nothing less of teachers. As Mr. Moore points out, Ms. Gruwell, like so many others, gave up teaching within five years. Despite popular sentiment otherwise, this is not actually because the work is too easy and the pay is too high.

I’m always surprised at how, once a Ms. Gruwell wins over a class with clowning, tears, rewards and motivational speeches, there is nothing those kids can’t do. It is as if all the previously insurmountable obstacles students face could be erased by a 10-minute pep talk or a fancy dinner. This trivializes not only the difficulties many real students must overcome, but also the hard-earned skill and tireless effort real teachers must use to help those students succeed.

He's right--it's very tough turning kids around (and I've mostly seen it done one at a time, rather than with an entire class). It's absurd that Deputy Chancellor Alonso has the audacity to publicly maintain the only variable is the teacher, but that's the philosophy these days. Maybe it's easier if you've got signed pledges from the parents stating they'll follow the rules or get tossed out. I wouldn't know.

I'm particularly fond of Mr. Moore's final paragraph, to which I'll add nothing:

Every day teachers are blamed for what the system they’re just a part of doesn’t provide: safe, adequately staffed schools with the highest expectations for all students. But that’s not something one maverick teacher, no matter how idealistic, perky or self-sacrificing, can accomplish.

Thanks to Schoolgal
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