Last night, LuAnn and I watched Waiting for Superman. Actually, Emily and Dakota watched most of it as well, even though it’s not really a kids’ show – they caught a few minutes and were hooked. It’s an interesting look at the American education system – what’s broken and some of what’s working. Statistically speaking, we’re falling behind, and the film takes a look at why that may be and what can be done to improve. There are some great examples of schools that are doing better – and some sad stories of the heartbreak for those who can’t get in to them.
As I watched, I just kept thinking of how fortunate I have been. My kids have had some great teachers in the past few years. And that’s really what it boils down to in Waiting for Superman; we cannot have great schools without great teachers. But our educational system doesn’t do enough to foster great teaching… and often sticks rigidly to practices and procedures that inhibit them, instead. In most careers, if you do a good job, that merits a raise, a bonus… some type of recognition. Not so much in teaching. In most careers, if you don’t do a good job, you don’t keep your job. Again, due largely to the influence of the two major teachers’ unions… not so much.
I am thankful for my kids’ teachers, and the school systems that have given them enough space to teach well. I’m thankful for my own teachers through the years and the extreme efforts they gave to educate me and my peers. I think of Mrs. Washenfelder. I was a straight A student – but I was skating, and she knew it. She pushed me to do my best, not just settle for better than the next kid. I think of Mr. Staffileno who had a way of pushing into some of the less interested students and engaging us all – no one slept in our Algebra class! I think of Dr. Brown & Dr. McCoy who forced me to dig into ancient texts like I’d never done, and of Mr. Cravatt who drew our youth ministry classes deep into discussions that still echo in much of what I do every day.
I also think of the teacher who refused to give me anything to do. Nearly every Spring afternoon of second grade was spent staring at the back of the kid in front of me – done with my work and not allowed to even read an extra book or two I’d snuck in from home. I think of a Geometry teacher who didn’t even care enough to brush his teeth or make eye contact with us – and still doesn’t seem to 20 years later. I think of a teacher whose idea of American History consisted of little more than whatever video was easiest to pull of the shelf of the school library.
But this is not some vendetta against what I, or the filmmaker, perceived as a bad teacher. I hope Waiting for Superman will open up more dialogue about how education in our nation can be improved for everyone involved. Check out the website, watch the film, and do something to recognize and help a great teacher you know.