The value of endurance in the classroom
By William Tunney
Regarding Michael Gerson’s June 9 op-ed, “D.C.’s passionate reformers,” on the work of young Teach for America corps members:
Somewhere outside of Mr. Gerson’s range of interest but integral to the D.C. public schools are middle-age teachers; let’s call them Mr. Peepers and Ms. Brooks. They have been teaching for more than 15 years, have homes and families and bring lives of dedication to their profession.
Teaching is an open-ended job. The work is never done. There is always one more paper to grade, one more parent to call, one more child who needs extra help, better lessons to prepare, etc. We can recruit the top 20 percent of elite college graduates, revel in their ability to live in the same neighborhood as their students, walk to school with them, stay late with them, come in on Saturdays and work with them, have parent conferences on Sundays. We can replace, as Mr. Gerson described with glee, 80 percent of the faculty and staff the school with such young, enthusiastic teachers.
Fast-forward five years. Most of the young teachers have left to pursue law degrees, write books about their experiences, leapfrog ahead of “lifers” to get principal positions courtesy of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, start businesses or just quit because their significant others can’t take the 24-7 obsessions that leave no time for normal lives.
Meanwhile, given a chance and some community support, Mr. Peepers will still be grading papers on Sunday night and Ms. Brooks will continue to stop for coffee on her way in to school as she gets ready to face the happy and sad faces, the troubled and cheerful souls who want an education and whose parents want teachers with stability, continuity and well-earned respect.
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