With One Eye Closed

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We cannot view education reform with one eye closed. The mantra of “teacher quality” reduces the profession to the traditional four walls of a classroom. Unfortunately, our students deserve more than just a teacher. Rather than place unnecessary burdens on teachers, education reformers must encourage teachers to maximize their influence in every child’s life.

Placing too much emphasis on increasing test scores and closing the “achievement gap” has led to a variety of unintended consequences. In my honest opinion, the lack of teachers investing in a student’s life, beyond the classroom, is one of the most damaging. More often than not, teachers are forfeiting the opportunity to start a club or coach a sports team, especially with regards to high-poverty public schools. This is an unfortunate trend, to say the least.

Making connections with students, beyond the traditional four walls, is as important as any instructional best practice. In fact, spending a couple of hours a week as a coach, or host to an after school club produces multiple benefits. For example, in addition to performing my regular classroom duties, which is daunting, I also serve as co-coach for DC SCORES, head coach for our baseball team, and club host for GeoPlunge. I cannot tell you how many “bad” classroom days have ended positively “on the practice field.”

Furthermore, education reformers must understand that not all students have the luxury or access to positive role models. Every student, regardless of zip code, deserves more than just a teacher. They deserve a mentor, a coach, an older sibling, and, yes, even a substitute parent. For example, I cannot describe how many positive connections I’ve made with challenging students simply by showing up to sporting events. But, when we view education with one eye closed, we ignore such opportunities.

Again, investing in a student’s life requires more than posting SMART objectives, creating warm ups, and assessing exit slips. Yes, such instructional best practices are important; however, it represents a tiny fraction of the task-at-hand. A highly effective teacher must diversify his/her role and maximize his/her influence, in every child’s life. Unfortunately, the narrow focus on improving student test scores has led many educators to forfeit their role as a student’s “cheerleader in the bleachers.” Every educator must take the time to invest in his/her students’ lives. They need to invest in students not only as a teacher, but also, and more importantly, as a student’s biggest fan. Then, and only then, will we view education with both eyes open.

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