On the hottest day of the year thus far, the Friday dismissal bell rings and 270 smiling faces leave the Hathaway School to begin their Labor Day weekend. As I watch the kids, it occurs to me that I have the best job in the world. How can I feel so good about the work we do in city schools? It’s because I believe in the power of urban teachers!
In my 32 years in education, I have had the privilege to know and work with teaching colleagues who can, and do, save children’s lives on a daily basis. Great teachers have the almost unimaginable ability to not only teach diverse kids to high standards, but simultaneously be the parent, counselor, and social worker that many of our kids need to feel safe, smart, and wanted. What motivates great urban educators? Simple. Great inner-city teachers know their children need them desperately and they take personal responsibility for enabling their kids to have the same chance in life as their more affluent and privileged peers from the suburbs. Let’s face it, for children whose moms and dads have the letters M.D. after their name and live in million dollar homes by the water, the path to college is pretty much determined in-utero. If you’re an inner city child in foster care with a family history of drug abuse and violence, however, your future opportunities are likely to be limited or non-existent. These kids depend on the personal dedication of their teachers toward building the background and providing the support that even the most gifted of children need if they are to find their way toward the great education that leads to success.
Great urban teachers are driven as much by the heart as by the mind. A great urban teacher looks at what others see as today’s failure and sees tomorrow’s doctor. Great urban teachers see through the behavioral problems that a child has in school to see the pain and uncertainty that dominate the lives of so many of our young. These educators choose to work in a profession that is underpaid and underappreciated, in conditions that are often less than conducive to learning because they know that the true measure of their success lies not in their weekly paycheck. Gifted teachers know that their true reward is intrinsic. Success for the best of the best comes in the phone calls from former students who take the time to thank their teacher for believing in them and helping them find their way when others were telling them they had no chance.
Our urban educational system is currently facing a time of great crisis driven by the need to elevate our students’ achievement to a level where they can compete in a world economy. Many are pessimistic at our prospects for success but I choose to be an optimist. I believe in the power of great teachers! I see it every day in the hope-filled smiling eyes of our kids.
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