Last week I read this article written by Justin Minkel, 2007 Arkansas teacher of the year, a board member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, and a member of the Center for Teaching Quality's Collaboratory. He also writes two blogs, Teaching for Triumph and Career Teacher. Mr. Minkel had the honor of lunch with President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, as well as three other teachers. I'm sure Mr. Minkel has done amazing, life changing things in his classroom in order to earn this honor. I can also tell he desires to make change in education with the work he is doing through his writing. He is a former Teach for America teacher as well, which is not an easy organization to gain admittance into or succeed in.
However, I was extremely unimpressed with the conversation that Mr. Minkel had with the president. As a teacher, I would hope that Mr. Minkel would be going to the White House to represent and speak for the changes we would all like to see in education. He has been given the platform to do so. The time should be spent hammering home points on raising the bar in education, paying teachers better and demanding more for our children. Instead, Mr. Minkel and his colleagues waxed on about kids in poverty and made insignificant philosophical stabs at political correctness.
The article is divided into paragraphs that summarize the four main points Mr. Minkel wished to drive home to the President. I am a well educated woman, a former Teach For America teacher myself and successful classroom teacher, writer, mother of four and education and play advocate and I find the list of four things he spoke to the President about to be appalling.
The first statement on the list is, "There is nothing wrong with kids." We have a highly intelligent president. Was this necessary to say? I'm willing to bet my pension President Obama could have deduced this without lunch in the blue room with four teachers.
The second statement on the list is "responsibility and delight can co-exist." I'm not sure what one has to do with the other. Is Mr. Minkel suggesting that it is not a delight to be responsible? Is delight the opposite of responsibility? Is he suggesting that delight is irresponsible?
The third statement on the list is "It's not about good or bad teachers. It's about good and bad teacher." I'm not sure this makes sense! Are we saying here that there are good teachers that are teaching poorly? Bad teaching usually comes from bad teachers, folks that just aren't cut out for the job.
The fourth statement is, "If we want students to innovate, collaborate, and solve real-world problems, we need to make it possible for teachers to do those same things." Yes, we do need to make it possible for teachers to do these things. In fact, this would be a good reason to send four teachers to the White House and sit down with the President for lunch! The problem is, we did that and those four teachers did not make it easier for us to collaborate and solve real-world problems. In fact they continued to feed the stream of dribble that passes for modern day commentary on education.
The teaching community needs to reexamine how we can better representing ourselves. This was a lost opportunity. The time could have been spent talking about the crisis of discipline we are facing in schools. There should have been a conversation about what it means to educate all parts of a child, from the head to the heart, to the physical body. What can we do to start helping all children to develop ALL parts of themselves? We are letting our children down by not holding ourselves to a higher standard.
The President ended the lunch by saying, "You give me hope" to these four teachers. Hope! I don't want hope. I want action. I would rather live in a world without hope. Hope keeps us from ever finding the solution. When we have hope we feel comfortable enough to put off finding a solution until all hope is gone. I guess we are planning on waiting this long to fix education. Hope won't educate our children or fund a better education for communities across America. Embedded in the concept of hope is the fact we are failing and we are OK with continuing to fail until hope is lost. Forget hope. How about success? President Obama, Mr. Minkel -- I would love to have lunch with you and talk about success. Please feel free to contact me any time.