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Education Nation Participant: Supporting Students Means Supporting Teachers

May 22, 2011

Today’s guest post comes from teacher Jairo De La Torre, of Los Angeles.  But first, a slightly long introduction… indulge me.

Jairo De La Torre

Jairo De La Torre, on Education Nation webcast, May 15, 2011.

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.”

twitter screenshotThen, 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.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2011 2:18 pm

    Jairo, we are thrilled that you took the time to further elaborate on your Education Nation comments. I was one of the teachers who gave a silent “right on!” when I heard your statements. It is so very important that we teachers continue to share our perspectives with the public so as to build bridges with those who have been misinformed by the new to education reformers.

    I see that you also teach in South Central, no? I’d love to chat with you some time about the Advanced Studies program at my school that some of your families might be interested in.


  2. Jane permalink
    May 22, 2011 3:06 pm

    Very well stated Jairo!

    It’s a trying time in California Education right now. When the economy is good and there is money, everyone is happy and programs are funded, even over funded sometimes. But once hard times hit, tempers start to flare, emotions run high and why not, people’s jobs are at stake. What was disappointing to many of us there last Sunday was that what we felt was a promising forum for teachers, quickly turned into a fight about where teachers were teaching. Why not take all the positive aspects of charter schools (parent involvement, collaboration, community support, etc.) and figure out a way it can be duplicated in public schools? And what about all the wonderful things happening in public schools that we don’t share or highlight? If education is going to turn around, we need to do it together. Charter, Public, new teachers, veteran teachers, union, no-union parents, administrators, community, students… we need to stop talking at it each and start talking with each other. We are all working towards the same goal, lets do it together.

    • Jairo De La Torre permalink
      May 22, 2011 9:13 pm

      Agreed, Jane. It was downright embarrassing to see our colleagues choose to paint eachother with a broad brush. The accusations ran wild and I cringed every time. The last thing we can afford to happen is for us to turn on one another. If educators can’t rise above the blame game then we’ll have others deciding our fate. I’d rather be leading the discussion than have a politician decide for me.

  3. Jane permalink
    May 22, 2011 3:23 pm


    I am glad your conscience is cleared! Jairo is an incredible teacher leader!

  4. Shannon permalink
    May 22, 2011 9:18 pm

    Jairo makes us non-teachers realize what fight they (and we) are all up against. Thank you for sharing-the word will be spread. This is one of the most important issues of our time.

  5. Jose Lara permalink
    May 23, 2011 12:15 pm

    Great Comments Jairo and great Blog site Martha. When I read posts like these it makes me proud to work as an educator and advocate for our children. The public must know that we are on the same side and teachers must not demonized. United We Win!

  6. May 23, 2011 1:48 pm

    A strong argument can be made for holding Teacher Education programs “accountable” before teachers are held “accountable.” Professional Education is the only profession that has not hammered out a core curriculum of Best Instructional Practices, there is no consistency from one professor to another. At least 80% of the core curriculum of every profession from surgery to hair dressing has done at least this much.
    You may wish to look in on one effort to identify Best Practices in any classroom most everyday at these sites: and
    Should you be old school and prefer books, here are two that try to honestly report what the research seems to be saying about teaching for basic and higher literacy: Manzo/Manzo/Thomas (2009) Content Area Literacy (Wiley, Publisher) & Manzo/Manzo/Albee Reading Assessment: A Diagnostic-Teaching Approach (2004)

  7. RSA@PHS permalink
    July 28, 2011 10:19 am

    I agree with you, Jairo. I’ve been teaching for 23 years, and am still working to improve my practice. Leadership that communicates a clear vision and empowers teachers to find solutions is an absolutely critical piece of the puzzle. Teacher support, support that aims to work with teachers to find solutions, rather than blame them for the problems and saddle them with one-size-fits-all-we-hope-it-works-magic-bullet solutions, is critical. Teachers work against great odds every day. I’ve heard that there are lazy teachers out there, but I haven’t met any. I have known teachers who were struggling with classroom management, time management, ways to effectively teach a particular concept, etc., and I include myself on some days or with some classes. We all want to be good at what we do, and need support, not blame, to get there.


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