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Why We All Can be Superheroes for Education

October 16, 2010

This guest post comes to us from ACT member Valerie Ziegler.  Valerie is a California Teacher of the Year for 2010, and she teaches in San Francisco.

About a month ago I took 14 of my Lincoln High School Teacher Academy seniors to see a premier of the new documentary Waiting for Superman. All of these students plan to pursue a career in education, and I was interested to see their reactions to a movie about the failure of our education system.  I feared that the movie might dissuade them from wanting to become teachers, but the next morning at school all they wanted to talk about was the film. I gave them a chance to share their reactions and have a discussion in our class.  “I cried!” said one student, “How sad to be in 1st grade and want to go to a school and not be able to.”  Another student commented, “those families care so much about their child’s education.” Samantha said, “It was so amazing how badly those parents wanted their students to succeed and become something. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.”  “Thank for taking us Ms. Ziegler, that movie gave me a lot to think about,” Aaron said to me has he left the room.

Every review I have seen, every panel I have heard, and every article I have read about the film focus on the failures of our educational system and the gripping stories of the families featured in the film.  I do agree our current system is flawed, and I worry every day about the students that enter my room and whether I, my colleagues, the teachers before them and the teachers after them will let them down.  I have seen firsthand the amazing things that are happening in public schools across California, but I also fear that we are not doing enough to prepare our students for life in the 21st century.  What struck me was that these were not the comments of my students.  They really wanted to talk about what the future of education can look like and what role they will play.

I strongly believe that all of us – teachers, parents, students, community members and politicians – can be the superheroes that rescue our failing schools and system.  It is the job of teachers, administrators and unions to ensure that every student has a quality teacher that provides a rigorous and quality education every day.  It is the job of educators to accept no less than our best and form relationships with our students, their families and our communities.  It is the job of parents to be active in school functions, PTSAs, to have dialogues with teachers and to accept no less than the best for their child.  It is the job of students to demand the best from their schools, their teachers and most importantly themselves.  It is the job of all of us to elect members of the school board and the State Superintendent of Education that are forward-thinking about education and know how to move our schools beyond what has been accepted.  It is the job of politicians to advocate for our students and to work with teachers and administrators to define the future of education.  It is up to all of us to fly in and save our schools with our ideas, knowledge, donations and time.  I encourage all of you to go and see the movie and I hope that you will have the same reaction that Maria in my class did – “That movie made me realize that I know I have to be a teacher when I grow up.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez permalink
    October 17, 2010 6:39 pm

    Valarie, I appreciate that your students want to be teachers and their ambition to make a difference. We are in complete agreement that every child deserves high-quality teachers, and that changes need to be made in our field. With that said, I respectfully disagree with you on the power of this film. Maybe this is because my colleague and I went into the theater armed with knowledge and research in our field – something the general public has not had time to do. Perhaps unlike them, we understand that high-stakes tests are hurting, not helping our school. I worry that inspiring to-be educators with a movie that praises people like Michelle Rhee, who has fired teachers simply based on test scores and not meaningful evaluations, is a recipe for disaster. Change has been coming, as this movie shows, and it isn’t good.

    In our schools we have some incredible educators and researchers, who we can learn so much from. Now, when will our administration start listening to them and change the policy that is tying our hands? Knowing that your voice, the teacher voice, will be valued and impact policy decisions is sure to inspire to-be educators! I didn’t hear any teacher voice in this film.

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