I travel a lot these days meeting with teachers and support staff and principals and parents and the press and anyone anywhere who wants to join hands and make good things happen for kids. I was on my way to Wichita to speak at a conference and the nice man in the middle seat started a nice conversation.
It always starts out nice.
“So, is Wichita home?” he nicely asks.
“No, I’m speaking at a teacher’s conference.”
“So, you a teacher?” he nicely asks.
“Yes, I’m a 6th grade teacher from Utah who works with the National Education Association. Kansas-NEA invited me to come talk about what we’re doing for our kids in the poorest neighborhoods and how we’re trying to recruit the best, most talented, most diversely-experienced teachers and support staff to work in their schools, and…”
(Click on image to see a video from Kansas NEA)
“NEA? I’ve heard about you guys,” he says not so nice.
Yesterday I was on a distinguished panel. The title of the conference was on the banner above our heads: A Penny Saved – How School Districts Can Tighten Their Belts and Serve Kids Better.
I know when I’m being set up.
But I also know when I’ve been given an opportunity. I’m a fairly noisy teacher, and I don’t get asked to formal things like this often (at least I don’t get asked twice.) Just as well. I find that distinguished people are very polite even when they disagree with you. This audience was very polite and listened quietly, taking notes. Something that can be painfully unnerving to a 6th grade teacher.
The forum sponsors sent me research papers in advance that dealt with lists of ways school districts could save pennies like turning down the thermostats or firing teachers or charging families bigger fees for sports or music or AP classes.
I was supposed to react to their suggestions and offer my own about how we could “tighten our belts” and “serve kids better.”
It is a heady thing to be asked to give your opinion. Into a microphone. With people taking notes. In seven minutes. Or less.
I am not a researcher. I am an excellent, professional, obviously humble 6th grade teacher from Utah. I have opinions on everything. And in this hearing room, with PhDs from Stanford and authors on best practices and researchers and statisticians, I had seven minutes to have folks understand, from the perspective of a practitioner, the opportunities and challenges and dangers of Closing the Achievement Gap between white children and children of other colors.
Would this audience understand we’re not talking about a test score? Would they understand that to define something as mind-blowingly complex as the achievement of a human-type child to a standardized test, you narrow what it means to teach and what it means to learn.
I was once on some talk show in Florida where a reporter said: Don’t you think you’re being a little hypocritical as a teacher being against tests.
Hablo español bastante bien para engañar a los que no lo hablan.
Which means: I speak Spanish well enough to fool people who don’t speak Spanish.
I’m not a native speaker. My mother is from Panama, but never taught us to speak her first language. I’ve been taking lessons for years because I love my mother. And I’m scared of her.
She admitted that it was a mistake not teaching us, but she said it was up to me to fix it.
She said to me, “You’ve got brains! Stop blaming me and take a class!” You don’t say ‘No’ to Ma. So I’ve got a friend teaching me, and I’ve got grammar books, and I’ve got novels and radio shows and podcasts and the Betty La Fea telanovela on TV.