Two years ago, I entered the teaching profession with vague ideas about "good" teaching. I knew next to nothing about the state of Minnesota education, Somali culture, or what my individual students would need. Very soon I’ll be finished with my second year of teaching. I’ve picked up many insights into this profession, my school and community culture, and the always-surprising minds of middle schoolers. I’ve also gained firsthand experience with many educational issues currently up for debate, in Minnesota and across the country. I think my greatest takeaway is that very few educational issues will ever be simply "wrong" versus "right." It’s only by seriously considering issues from multiple points of view that we come closer to making education better for our students.
Consider the role of charter schools–headlines suggest that we need more to save education, or, conversely, that they are contributing to the loss of traditional public neighborhood schools. I know that I'm proud of some things that happen at my charter school: MinnCAN ranked the middle school section second in Minnesota for black student performance. I’m disheartened by other things that happen at my school: We can’t seem to put the right school structures in place to help many students, and my students don’t have the same access to resources and technology as their district school peers. I know that there are charter schools that are doing amazing things for children, charters that are not supporting staff and students–and many that fall somewhere in between on the spectrum.
The Minnesota Board of Teaching recently voted to make it more difficult for Teach For America corps members to obtain licensure and teach in Twin Cities schools, stirring up plenty of feedback on both sides of the alternative licensure debate. Depending on the local education leaders that you talk to, we either need more corps members for our schools, or we already have far too many. While I’m proud to be an alumna of Teach For America, I can also understand why TFA stirs up controversy. However, TFA is just one of many parts of the effort to improve education in our state, where the status quo is clearly not enough for all students. Instead of flatly shutting out alternative options, I hope that more people will be open to possibilities, especially those with proven track records of success. Rather than being immediately written off for the way that TFA teachers enter the profession, I think we should perhaps ultimately be judged by our accomplishments with the students and schools we serve.
Another controversial local issue was Dr. Steve Perry’s speech, part of the RESET Education series that wrapped up last week. While I didn’t agree with everything the speaker said, I wholeheartedly supported one of his main messages: that although we already know what good schools look like, we just aren’t giving them to all students. I hope that this message from his speech, all too true in many of our communities, isn’t lost in the heated arguments over his choice of words and tone.
While it’s tempting to treat education like any other politicized issue, and jump to take sides, our students deserve more. It would be nice if every complicated educational issue had an obvious "right" and "wrong"–hopefully our education system would be fixed by now! But if we gloss over some of the details and voices in these debates, we might miss out on the insights that will truly effect change.
Christina Salter is a School Reform Blogging Fellow. This is the last post in her year-long series.