Check out this new website that my good friend quietly launched this week My Teacher My Hero. See who influenced some of the top thinkers and leaders in our country. Funny how we can each remember a teacher or two who made a deep and lasting impression on us. Someone who took an interest in us and made us see our own possibilities. A teacher who challenged us to reach higher and further. This was one of your first mentors, they helped you become better as a person and a student. For me, Mrs. Lewis in 3rd grade and Mr. Bougeris in 10th grade stand out as teachers who made a difference.
Educate yourself about this debate on teacher quality and teacher performance — makes a difference to our kids and the next generation. We don't appreciate how hard this job is. We don't really understand what it takes to manage a classroom, get through all of the curriculum that is required and do that basically by yourself. It is a job we do not understand or value enough. That being said, having the best teachers standing at the front of that class could be the difference that not only changes student lives but changes all of our lives. We all lose when any talent or shred of genius is not given the chance to shine and grow. This is not a standard that can be compromised.
The Gates Foundation has spent literally billions of dollars trying to improve public schools. It has been a experience that has yielded great lessons and data. Watch this video Bill Gates Unplugged, he discusses malaria and then gives a riveting presentation on teachers.
And I like many believe that teachers are undervalued and underpaid. I like what Michelle Rhee Chancellor of Washington DC school system is doing, –offering huge pay increases for the right to evaluate teachers on performance and not on tenure is a model that needs to be emulated. Hard to believe that most school systems give tenure–security of employment for life– after about 5 years, it varies from 2-7 years. Did you know that? No other profession I know has such an amazing deal. Clearly that is one of the factors that keeps salaries down. Not against tenure, but performance and quality have to be major factors in granting tenure, right? And should tenure be for life?!!
If you have an interest in addressing poverty, helping kids make better choices, improving the economy–think about how we guide and mentor our kids outside the home. Think about one of the biggest influences on our kids–teachers. Don't you think that if students encounter a teacher like the ones we remember, that their ability to find themselves, to stay in school, to become productive members of our society increases? For many kids they don't have 2 parents or any parents. Who mentors these kids?
When I was at Big Brothers Big Sisters, I used to ask people what the most powerful mentoring organization is. It was a trick question. I would say "Gangs." They have an incredible system of mentoring, training, and fulfilling the needs of young vulnerable people. And the consequences are deadly. And for the few who can escape or be rescued, the re-entry into society can be brutal. One of many guiding lights in this area has been Father Boyle's work at Homeboy Industries. Homeboy does miracles with its tattoo removal, re-education, training for jobs, and placement services. But this is the consequence of a failed system. I am not blaming the schools, I am blaming us. How did we let this happen?
We all know, if a kid can stay in school, the likelihood of being recruited to the dark side is lessened. And, if those kids are fortunate to have teachers who will inspire them, to mentor them, then we save kids and we preserve the talent in our community. Those of us who have kids or care about our future–that would be all of us!–need to keep on top of this issue. No single factor makes a bigger difference in our public schools than the teacher.
Let's all go back to school this Fall. Let's all cherish those teaching and mentoring memories of days gone by. Let's reflect on the influence of great teachers and mentors. Let's engage in the understanding of what is happening in our classrooms. Let's support our teachers and our public schools.
Who are you mentoring? Never forget, regardless of your position in life, you too are mentoring and teaching kids and others by your actions.
Thanks for reading. John