By Robert Covington Jr.
These days, life as a teacher in large cities such as Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York have become far more complicated, questioned, misunderstood and in some political circles, marginally respected. Many of our teachers have been given unwelcomed circumstances such as a manic test driven school culture, an autocratic principal, an environment that limits their creativity, skeletal levels of resources and overcrowded classrooms that impact their overall effectiveness. I would be remiss if the exposure to potential violence from students, assault on unions, questionable management decisions by unions, privatization, the disproportionate amount of racially segregated schools and the methodical dismantling in the belief in quality urban public school education were not also mentioned.
Given all of the constraints, unfairness and challenges, what does a teacher have to fall back on? I think that is the fundamental question. As the legitimate push for better conditions, environment, resources, salaries and support continue, teachers have to show up and make a decision on how to proceed in running their classroom. In doing so, our teachers have to remember that many of their students are living under very challenging home situations and stressors but still come to school with the intent to learn.
In doing so, our teachers have to remember that their impact on students are enormous, regardless of classroom size or the condition of the building. I would venture to say that most of my readers have vivid memories of a teacher that inspired them or doubted them. Some things you never forget. As a writer who has a tremendous amount of respect for the teaching profession, it is that time of year that awards are given out. So for all of our teachers out there, which award would you have earned this year?
The Worst Teacher Award goes to...
Hello, I am a teacher who dislikes going to school to work with underachieving students. My attitude, preparation and belief system perpetuates low expectations and assures poor outcomes. I’m tired of their poverty. I complain way more than I problem solve. I am resistant to change because the status quo allows my incompetence to persist unabated. I’m relying on the continuance of uninvolved parents so my accountability to them remains minimized. I’m not a big fan of creativity or thinking outside the box. It’s not worth it because the students won’t get it or understand it anyway.
I take great pride in my grading system that produces a small number of A’s. I give tests on material I didn’t cover thoroughly or not at all. I underestimate my students because I never invested in learning about them in the first place. What drives me to come to work is my paycheck. After all, I have a family to feed. So please, let me do what I do and go home. I accept this award dishonorably and unfortunately, I am unable to be there to receive this distinction at this time.
The Best Teacher Award goes to...
Hello, I am a teacher who has the same hopes and dreams for my students as I have for my own children. I try to learn and understand my students, their strengths, challenges, motivations and barriers to reaching their potential. My optimism is pervasive. My passion is evident to all of my students and professional peers. I dress the part of success. I look the part of success. I am a role model, mentor, disciplinarian, listener and counselor. I become part of my students as they become a part of me.
I work hard to let my students know that I am approachable. I surround them with visual and verbal reminders to embrace high expectations of themselves. I know self-doubt, questioning and testing my genuine care for their well-being will occur at times. I am ready. I am here for them. Sometimes my lunches in solitude are sacrificed when a student reaches out for help. Getting home a little bit later to my nuclear family, significant other or pets will occur on occasion because that extra hour for a student could be the difference in sustaining a belief that things could be different versus an internalization that no one cares or willing to do more when it is known that I need more.
My lesson plans are developed with differentiation, connecting concrete and abstract concepts and facts to real life situations. I get excited about parent-teacher conferences because I can now put a face to a parent that I’ve had other forms of correspondence with about their child.
So, on behalf of my students, I humbly accept this award. Thank you!
(Robert Covington Jr. is a writer of political, social, life and cultural issues. Trained Social Worker, Mental Health Therapist, Clinical management.)