Education Nation Participant: Supporting Students Means Supporting Teachers
Today’s guest post comes from teacher Jairo De La Torre, of Los Angeles. But first, a slightly long introduction… indulge me.
One week ago, NBC’s Education Nation produced a Teacher Town Hall webcast. Given the shortcomings (to put it mildly) of last year’s Education Nation programming, teachers I know were streaming the webcast with varying degrees of skepticism and pessimism. When it was all over, I wrote that it had been successful in raising multiple viewpoints on important issues. (InterACT also cross-posted another review by Christal Watts, whose reaction was similar).
I had also been “live-tweeting” the webcast, offering spontaneous reactions, questions, and quotations from the webcast. There were many teachers whose words and stories made an impression on me, but among those speaking from the audience, there was one who stood out. He talked about the importance of support:
“You show me a teacher who perhaps isn’t up to standard, I’ll show you a teacher who’s not being supported. I’ll show you a teacher who doesn’t have the funding they need. I’ll show you a teacher who doesn’t have the resources they need. I’ll show you a community that’s in need.”
“I’m here with a great teacher, she’s been teaching twenty-four years. My very first day on campus, she saw a need, something I needed to do – she didn’t point a finger, she lent me a hand.”
Then, concluding his remarks, he said, and I tweeted, “You don’t improve education by beating down the people who do the work every single day.” For anyone following my tweets, or the #EducationNation hash-tag, I would hope that it was clear I was quoting a participant in the show. However, his short and eloquent statement resonated with many people on Twitter: my tweet was “retweeted” at least fifty times.
While I was glad that particular quote received such attention, I felt some concern that it was going around with my name on it rather than being properly attributed. Going back to the webcast the next day, I picked out his last name, as he had been introduced as “Mr. De La Torre.” Then I realized that this teacher was a friend of a friend; Jane Ching Fung is the twenty-four-year veteran to whom Mr. De La Torre referred, and I had tracked down this teacher.
A product of the LAUSD school system, Jairo De La Torre is a fifth-grade teacher in inner-city Los Angeles. His leadership experience includes: UTLA Chapter Chair, School Leadership and Professional Development Teams, Guiding Master Teacher, School Site Council Representative, and Dual Language Teacher. He recently earned his MA in Childhood and Adolescent Literacy from Loyola Marymount University and continues to be a teacher-leader at his school site to help create meaningful change from within.
Now, I’m pleased to offer Jairo not only the proper credit for the widely-tweeted quotation, but also this space to expand on the ideas he expressed on Education Nation one week ago. (DBC)
On the surface it may seem like a simple problem. Kids deserve a great education, right? Sure. Okay, let’s give them well-prepared, enthusiastic teachers with limitless resources to help build creative and critical thinkers. Well, I suppose that’s where things get complicated. We know what kids need, we just seem unable to decide neither what form to provide it in nor how to pay for it. So how do we begin to fix education? A few things are certain: it’s not a problem one person has caused and it’s not a problem that one person will fix. I believe that we’ll only solve the issues by supporting those closest to the classroom and students. Creating and retaining well-prepared and effective teachers is crucial.
I attended this year’s NBC Education Nation Teacher Town Forum in Los Angeles expecting to hear different perspectives and opinions on education. The finger pointing was fast and furious. It’s Sacramento’s fault. It’s the union that holds us back. Principals aren’t doing their job. Parents just don’t care. Charter schools are ruining public education in America. Lazy teachers are failing our students and we can’t get them out. I think that last one especially hurts. OUCH!
While I’m just paraphrasing a handful of comments made at the forum, it’s clear that the opinions voiced by many of the participants highlight just a portion of the ways we assign culpability. One of the panelists struck me as particularly optimistic. Meredith Dadigan, charter school teacher of the year, gave credit to her supportive administration and a host of support personnel which allowed for her success as a teacher. Dadigan went on to say that she hears that teachers and children need support.
I agree with her in saying that teachers who receive the support they need will be successful in teaching their students. I don’t think the problems are a mystery. I remember being a passenger in my dad’s Oldsmobile station wagon when I was just a kid struggling to see over the dashboard. I’d peek over and read, “It’ll be a great day when education gets all the money it wants and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy bombers” on bumper stickers as we drove around Los Angeles. What has changed?
As a teacher, I need help. I can’t do it all myself. I need a strong principal who is a curriculum leader with a vision for what kind of student we want to create. I need colleagues who will work hard hours everyday to get the most out of kids and lead them to success. I need training in order to engage my students with new materials and instructional strategies that work. Somehow, California and school districts can’t provide. Instead we’ve lost and continue to lose amazing teachers. Our teachers and principals are overworked and under-supported. We continue to deny our students what we know to be the basics of a good education.
Yolie Flores, LAUSD Board Member, struck me with her words when she said that public education is underfunded and if we are to expect greatness from our teachers we need to support them, invest in them and believe in them. It doesn’t happen by just wishing it. It takes money and budgeting. It takes time and planning. It takes all of us working together to support all of those involved in order to reform education.
I had the opportunity to speak during the forum webcast and made it a point to try and dispel the myth of the lazy teacher. You show me a teacher who needs to improve and I’ll likely show you a teacher who isn’t receiving the support they need. We wouldn’t label our students as lazy or as problems. Is it fair that we do that so easily to teachers? The problem certainly isn’t teacher-created, but it’s my assertion that we won’t get far in resolving the crisis if we don’t empower our teachers.