While we wait for ‘Superman,’ let's focus on teaching
This post was written by Aleta Margolis, founder and executive director of the Center for Inspired Teaching, a D.C.-based nonprofit organization that works with teachers, principals, and entire school faculties to foster the best teaching practices.
By Aleta Margolis
I attended last night's preview of "Waiting for Superman," Davis Guggenheim’s stirring film that tells the stories of five children with big dreams and limited educational opportunities. It’s a powerful film that accomplishes its goal: shining a light on the problems in education and making them impossible to ignore.
The film calls us to action and, from where I stand, there are two ways to go:
1-Choose sides. Decide if you’re pro-union or pro-reform. Pro-charter school or pro-traditional public school. With us or against us.
2-Go for long term, serious change. See Waiting for Superman as a compelling opening act. Let it move us to call for a fundamental shift in what we expect from our students, our teachers, and our educational institutions.
I’m choosing option #2, and hope others will too.
The film highlights what we know: Teachers make the difference. Conventional thinking tells us the best way to improve teacher effectiveness is to remove the ineffective teachers and replace them with effective ones. No doubt, this strategy is needed.
But if we’re going for a fundamental shift in what we expect from schools, then a wholesale cast change won’t be the fix we imagine. We’ll risk ending up with a new batch of well-intentioned, but improperly prepared players in a flawed system.
Children deserve the opportunity to learn in school, regardless of where they are born.
But the imagery used in the film to portray this message—including a cartoon teacher opening the empty heads of her students and pouring in information from a milk carton—promotes some of the old-school thinking the film purports to rally against.
We need to expect something different – something more – of teachers, and we need to teach them how to do it and support them when they do.
So what should we expect of teachers? Here’s a start: Push children to use their minds well, think critically and creatively, understand concepts in depth, and seek, find, and use information. Change from information provider to instigator of thought.
This approach to teaching is demanding of teachers and children, and there a few naturally talented teachers who do this as a matter of course. But we need millions of teachers to do this intellectual and exciting work, because, as the film highlights so well, every child, not just a lucky few, deserves an excellent education.
So, what if we ask teachers to re-think their role in the classroom – and we train and support them, from recruitment to retirement, to act as instigators of thought? Think about it.
Being a teacher would be a fascinating job. It would involve asking thought-provoking questions to push students to grapple with complex ideas, collecting data about how each student learns, and customizing instruction to meet student needs and raise student achievement. Teachers and schools could breathe life into students instead of sucking the life out of them. Classrooms could become places where teachers and students engage in complex, joyful, challenging work.
And here’s the best part: When we start asking teachers throughout their careers to be instigators of thought instead of information providers, it follows that more talented people will be attracted to the teaching profession and want to stay, and more current teachers will be motivated to excel—not out of fear or even out of a desire to earn a bonus, but out of a genuine desire to do something that makes them feel proud.
If this is the change we fight for, then the current battle that pits unions against reformers, and traditional public schools against charters will end. And all sides, including the kids, will be the winners.
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| September 16, 2010; 5:30 PM ET
Categories: Charter schools, D.C. Schools, Guest Bloggers, Teachers | Tags: center for inspired teaching, firing teachers, how to fix schools, inspired teachers, inspired teaching, professional development, school reform, superman movie, teacher development, teachers, waiting for superman
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