Teach­ing in the trenches

The Covington News - - Newton At Play -

There is much to crit­i­cize and lit­tle to ap­plaud in to­day’s pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, es­pe­cially if you are un­for­tu­nate enough to at­tend school in one of Amer­ica’s in­ner cities.

As the com­pe­ti­tion from In­dia and Rus­sia for white col­lar, mid­dle class jobs grows and the man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs that used to re­quire no more than a high school ed­u­ca­tion to per­form are out­sourced to China and Viet­nam, it has never been more cru­cial for Amer­ica’s youth re­ceive a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion.

Sadly, there are mil­lions of young Amer­i­cans who are not even re­ceiv­ing a de­cent ed­u­ca­tion.

In “Re­lent­less Pur­suit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach For Amer­ica” au­thor Donna Foote, a for­mer re­porter for Newsweek, ex­plores what it’s like for the stu­dents, teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors at Locke High School in south Los An­ge­les, ar­guably one of the worst pub­lic schools in the na­tion. Foote fol­lowed four young TFA re­cruits in their first year of their two-year com­mit­ment to teach at an un­der­per­form­ing pub­lic school.

Foote de­votes con­sid­er­able space to chron­i­cling the rise of TFA and its highs and lows through­out the years since its found­ing in 1990 by Wendy Kopp. To­day the pro­gram is one of the most sought af­ter and pres­ti­gious post-grad­u­ate pro­grams in the coun­try. Much at­ten­tion is also given to the way the non­profit is run and the cul­tural ethos sur­round­ing mem­ber­ship in TFA.

Teach­ers are con­stantly as­sessed on their class­room progress. In ad­di­tion to the gru­el­ing pace set by TFA, the teacher re­cruits must also deal with the con­sid­er­able chal­lenges of the class­room. Many of the stu­dents they are sup­posed to be teach­ing are years be­hind in their math and read­ing, not to men­tion un­will­ing or un­able to be­have prop­erly in a class­room set­ting. The threat of gang and racial vi­o­lence looms as a con­stant pos­si­bil­ity over the heads of the stu­dents and teach­ers at Locke High School.

The four teach­ers pro­filed in the book all came from some of the na­tion’s top uni­ver­si­ties. Like most TFA re­cruits, they joined for al­tru­is­tic rea­sons. Foote delves deep into the heads of each of th­ese teach­ers, chron­i­cling their hopes and high ex­pec­ta­tions at the beginning of the year as well as their low-points when some con­sider quit­ting the pro­gram mid­way through their com­mit­ment. While Teach For Amer­ica is sup­posed to be the star of the book, one can’t help but be cap­ti­vated by Locke High School and the in­ept bu­reau­cracy that has run it into the ground. One of the re­cur­ring themes in the book is the on­go­ing bat­tle in Locke be­tween a mi­nor­ity group of re­formist­minded teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors, who want to con­sider things like longer class pe­ri­ods and longer school days in or­der to bring their stu­dents up to the state av­er­age, and the union­backed teach­ers who refuse to con­sider it.

“Re­lent­less Pur­suit” poses no so­lu­tions, but it does raise some ques­tions. Like why are teach­ers’ unions given so much con­trol over the run­ning of our schools and why does the rich­est coun­try in the world have one of the least ef­fi­cient pub­lic school sys­tems of any de­vel­oped na­tion?

The book also of­fers a glimpse into what one non­profit is do­ing to im­prove our schools by in­spir­ing a cadre of this coun­try’s best and bright­est to think of ways to rein­vig­o­rate our pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem so it can con­tinue to com­pete on a global scale.

This book is highly rec­om­mended for all teach­ers, school ad­min­is­tra­tors and par­ents who are frus­trated with the pace of re­form in Amer­ica’s pub­lic schools. -

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