Monday, November 15, 2010

NEA NH Educator Article

This just came out today; I didn't name the article myself--and I'm not so sure I like the title.  I feel like it insinuates blame on parents, which is not what the article does.  I wasn't sure whether I should be shocked or proud by the (NOTE) attached...that came as a surprise as well! 

Waiting for Super Parents

By Angie Miller, Holderness - NH Teacher of the Year
(NOTE:  The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and don't necessarily reflect the views of NEA-NH or its members.)

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to see Waiting for Superman. Like many of you, I had read the scathing reviews of teachers that appeared in Newsweek and Time Magazine this summer in preparation for the movie’s debut.  I bought the companion book filled with essays of which I left dog-eared, highlighted, and filled with my written comments.  Needless to say, I walked into the theater with my guard up—I was defensive before I had even given the movie a chance, based on hearsay.  What I encountered, however, was a surprise—I agreed with many of the issues presented.  Teachers are in a difficult spot—we are public servants, and that requires us to find protection within our unions so that we are not at the whim of an errant administrator or parent.  However, I would support the movie in saying that we have found a little too much protection and that our system does not currently support struggling teachers or eliminate ineffective ones.  We have all witnessed unfortunate incidents unfold in our own schools in which adults were protected over the benefit of our students.  I hope the popularity of this movie will provoke positive, proactive discussions in our local unions and with our school boards and that we can answer to the call of parents demanding that all teachers are effective.  As a parent myself, I do not find this unreasonable.
That being said, there was one element in education that was conspicuously missing from Guggenheim’s film; those parents and communities themselves.  While Superman touted the successes of charter schools, it failed to even once acknowledge that in a charter school where parents have to apply and then sit through a lengthy, lottery process, 100% of the parents are actively invested in their children’s education—something that regular public schools cannot always boast of having.  The movie failed to recognize the significant impact that parent and community involvement has on our schools.  The connection between well-performing schools and parent and community involvement has been researched and documented thoroughly over the past half century, but greatly overlooked by initiatives taken on to improve our schools.

All parents want their child to receive an excellent education. However, there are parents who do not always know how to support that.  They are oftentimes intimidated by school systems, unsure of how to be involved, or overwhelmed by their own life’s issues.  I do not see communities who do not appreciate their teachers, but rather communities who are waiting to be asked to support them.
Because of this, teachers need to be the agents of change that reach out to our parents and communities.  I believe in classrooms with no walls—students should be part of their greater community; parents should be made comfortable to enter their schools; teachers should share ideas with other teachers; and the general public should know what is happening within the school systems that they support.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of blurring the lines between the classroom and the world.  To recognize a child’s background and environment is to validate what he or she brings to the classroom.  By bringing students and their academic work into the community, we increase the likelihood that they will later serve their community and understand their roots while also exposing the general public to the learning that our students undertake every day.  By inviting parents to participate in their child’s education, we are encouraging them to support everyday learning and become partners with us in educating their child.  It is about making what we do real and transparent. 
Start small—hold a family writing night; bring your chorus to the nursing home for a rehearsal; write letters to a soldier overseas; post art at the local coffee shop; invite parents to join your physical education class for a friendly competition one day…there are so many ways to blur the lines that are not overwhelming.  But whatever the method or the avenue, by integrating our greater communities and world into our classrooms,   we validate the wholeness of our education system and make learning relevant to our students.  We break down walls for parents and build partnerships with our communities.  We show that Superman is an impossible dream unless there is a collective effort.

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