This past week I was lucky enough to travel with an incredible delegation of educators to New York City to investigate some interesting and alternative models of education. The focus of the trip was around technology and its usage in education with a particular look at how corporate partnerships can impact the learning environment. This is becoming and interesting resource that many districts are looking to exploit especially as budgets are tightened and the need to be more current when it comes to graduate expectations become more and more important. There is certainly potential here and I will write much more about it later, but for now I want to focus on more of the perspective I gained from this trip as opposed to the actual learning.
We visited three different schools on our trip. Two were schools in lower income areas of the city including north Manhattan and Brooklyn. These schools had been designated as “failing schools” and so the state invested a lot of money into rethinking the model and looked for ways to leverage corporate and state partnerships to offer a different learning environment and then to provide for a clear and even FREE college pathway. We met some amazing young people who, despite their circumstances were articulate, ambitious and great representatives of some still young programs. The changes in their schools had led them to have hope and a goal: truly the central point of any educational setting.
We also visited a very exclusive and expensive private school. When I say expensive I am talking about $50 000/year tuition for pre K – 12 education. For most of us, the idea of spending over $650 000 for your child’s education BEFORE they go to university is hard to comprehend, there is a section of society that does not bat an eye at the bill. They pay it willingly and truly it has little to no impact on their cheque book in the end. It was an interesting visit and I have to admit that the idea of working in a school that had limitless resources, no constraints in the way of state curriculum, unions or fiscal responsibility can be appealing. This sort of school has the luxury of having lots of time to think about education and to see if what they are doing is working. They have a section of their staff that works solely on researching their model and offering constant feedback to their teachers. Also, their teacher to pupil ratio is less than half of the school I run. They simply have the resources and staff to really dig into their craft. The possibilities of this model are really endless. But…..
The but came for me as I talked about the model with other educators, including my wife. My wife works in a small public elementary school located in a high priority neighborhood with lots of government subsidized housing. She struggles daily with the fact that her kids just do not have the resources or the opportunities that would support what she does in her class. She has to pay for most of the materials in her classes because of shrinking budgets and she does it willingly without hesitation. Despite all this, when asked she said that she would never teach at the uber rich private school I visited. As I thought about it, I got to the point that I had to agree. I had to agree because of one simple question: what difference are teachers at that school making? Don’t get me wrong, I saw some amazing teachers working very hard and doing some really cool stuff, but in the end what impact does that effort have on the lives of their students?
These students will be fine no matter what happens in their classrooms. They come from a social elite that will have money forever and will have influence no matter what. They will have all the social contacts necessary to move through their lives and all doors will remain open no matter what happens. Perhaps the teachers could make them better people and thus hope that they will use their influence in a positive way in the future, but that simply is not enough for me (or my wife or most educators I talked to).
The trip, and the contrast I saw in the school visits revealed to me the core reason I am an educator. To make a difference. To change the world for the better. To open some doors to students that otherwise would be left hopelessly knocking for most of their lives. Our job, as public educators is to change the game for kids and to make them see the potential in themselves that they never knew was there. To challenge them and hold them to higher expectations then they have for themselves and then hopefully reverse the cycle of poverty and social dependence that so many fall into.
Our job is to make a difference and so while the allure of 2 to 1 technology (yeah that’s right 2 devices to 1 student ratio!), unlimited resources and no outside constraints is tempting, the net gain is just not going to do it for me. The realization that I have the chance to make a real difference every day (even though many days it does not work out), is the real drug for me. The addiction of teaching is the change or the impact. The chance to CHANGE THE GAME is at the core of my pedagogical drive and that is the best lesson I learned on our educational trip.