Tuesday, February 22, 2011

From a "dropout factory" graduate...

The definition of effective according to dictionary.com is, “Successful at producing an intended or desired result.” The definition of school is, “An institution for educating children.”

So, an effective school is successful at educating children and producing graduates. Easy enough, right? That’s it? Wrong.

An effective school is everything listed in Teaching In America pages 107-8 but it’s also consistent. I believe consistency is the key to effectiveness for many things and schools are no different. But, as schools are getting larger and larger it’s getting harder and harder to be effective.

An effective school is not afraid of change, but it also does not immediately jump on the bandwagon to each new idea. An effective school is careful and cautious with what changes they proceed with. An effective school is full of teachers that are naturally progressive and always yearning to grow further themselves.

An effective school starts with its teachers, just as Davis Guggenheim from Waiting for Superman claims. Like a principal can control the culture of a school, the teachers can control the effectiveness of a school. A school cannot be effective if the teachers do not strive for results from each and every one of his or her students.

In my first semester at Drake an instructor claimed that we would not like every child/student. We are human and it’s human to dislike another human and it’s okay. This really struck me. As a person that strives to see the good in everybody and tries really hard to like everybody, it’s hard to accept this fact. It brought clarity and relief though. What she was also saying is, you don’t give up on that person because your personalities clash. Your job as a teacher is to teach everyone, and if you don’t teach everyone, or at least try… well, you didn’t do your job. You only did a portion of job. Who wants to do just a portion of their job?

In reflecting what effective schools look like I got to thinking about what ineffective schools look like. This should be easy, right? They’re supposedly everywhere and in almost every city. In fact, I went to a high school that is regarded as a “dropout factory” so, I should have first hand experience on what they look like, but I had to give this some serious thought. When I read the list on page 108, I thought to myself, “This describes my high school, so what is going wrong?” Then I thought to myself… my high school had almost 2000 students in it at one time. It probably has more now, as that was 10 years ago. 2000 students! To me, that is a ridiculous number. It is easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of so many students and teachers, and if it’s a school that’s at the top of the state for sports and activities… that’s wonderful, but in the shoes of an average student, it is hard to comprehend feeling special or more than a number.

It takes a strong adult to try and stand out in a crowd of 2000 people, now put that weight on the shoulders of a student that is young and impressionable. That student has the easy way out whispering in his or her ear, and that easy way out is to give up. As teachers we need to be watching for that voice and when we see it we need to be drowning it out with our own voices.

There’s no way around big schools, cities do not have the funds to break them apart into smaller pieces. This makes a teacher’s responsibility even bigger. Their eyes have to be open a little wider, their ears need to be stretched a little farther and they need to see what other people don’t. When they see and hear these things they need to find ways to get through to their students or at least reach out to someone else that can do it for them.

There are many, many factors that contribute to making an effective school effective and many, many factors that contribute to making a school ineffective. Identifying the factors and remaining consistent is just one piece of the puzzle.

"The fate of our country won't be determined on a battlefield it will be decided in a classroom."
-Waiting for Superman

You may have guessed I just recycled a paper for class as a blog post, but you know what? It's important stuff and I wanted to put it out there. If you haven't seen Waiting for Superman, you should check it out, it's a wonderful documentary. It sensationalizes the issue but, in my opinion, it needs to be sensationalized.

So tell me, what do you think makes a school effective?

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