Sunday, November 27, 2011
Blog Post #13 : EDM 310 Class Blog
Today's public school system is failing our students. With national reading levels well below average, we face a future of unnecessary illiteracy, and books that discuss explicitly exactly what the problem is can shed some light on a permanent solution. In his book, "There Are No Shortcuts", Rafe Esquith states, "Frankly, you need to be fairly smart to be a good teacher. At the elementary school level, a good teacher not only knows literature, but must also be versed in basic science, history, and the arts, as well as being equipped to play social worker and psychologist"(p. 35). Written in a personal voice, with instances of sheer joy and equal disappointment, he describes his teaching career and the many battles and friendships it has presented him. Sincere, and always one to take the high road, he warns new idealistic teachers about the perils of non-conformity and administrative blockades that await them, but contends that it is a rewarding job if one is willing to do the work and not be intimidated by those in positions of authority.
His story begins with his first error in judgement, which almost cost him his career. Young, and idealistic himself, he learned humility, and reminds us that humility is a good thing. After getting his second chance, he teaches at "Camelot", a school with wealthy students, where he realizes that his passion to excite young minds had decidedly mediocre results. The "Jungle", an overpopulated, inner-city school in Los Angeles becomes his home, where he and his students exceed expectations; reading scores rise dramatically, his students are invited to many prestigious events to perform, and he became the Winner of the American Teacher Award.
Many students have come into his class, and returned to visit, or keep in touch. He tells stories of how they have touched his life, taught him about himself and his strengths and weaknesses, and brought him a sense of purpose and humbled gratitude for his part in their success. The reader can see through his quoted text banter the range of horrible and wonderful moments he has experienced, and he shares these with the jaw-dropping shock or tear-jerking awe he felt as he felt them. I got angry right along with him more than once! His insight into the flaws of our public school system is disheartening and maddening. Some of the characters he describes, "Miss Egghead", "Miss Busy-as-a-Bee", "Mr. Incompetent", "Miss Hummingbird", "Miss Bright Light", "Miss Megabyte", are euphemisms for those they represent. These are a few incompetent players he encounters, and their presence in his book is representative of their presence in the schools. He tells us basically to be kind to all, and fight your battles wisely.
An obviously passionate reader, our author takes us through his discovery that his lifelong hero changes as his experience of teaching grows. Touched by many characters he has read about all his life, such as Huck Finn and Atticus Finch, he awakens in his students the love of reading and science and the arts. The students have experiences in and out of his class and learn how to be well-behaved, disciplined, humbled and kind. They strive because he believes in them; his class economic system allows them some freedom, and confidence. These strategies are aligned with the real-world strategies young people must master to survive, which is the main objective of education itself!
In moments when Mr. Esquith was ready to give up, his students' past and continued success made him fight a sometimes uphill battle. "When all is said and done, a good teacher helps the student to improve the quality of his life. With so many children growing up poor, one of my major goals is to give that child a fighting chance to end the cycle of poverty that paralyzes hopes and dreams,"(p. 149). Setting the bar higher and unafraid to upset administrators, he encourages parents to be heavily involved in classrooms, teachers to think outside the box to use their passion to awaken their students, and readers to never give up hope that the educational system will formulate and produce the correct combination of teacher competence and effective instruction to get children reading and learning.