There was something that really bothered me about Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade’s long article , but I couldn’t seem to put my finger on it. This is quite apart from the wordiness and “academ-ese” of it.
The article was way harder to understand than it needed to be, and this was confirmed when I read his website and got a better sense of his approach. True, I am not getting any sharper as I get older, but the web site just explained things in plain English, which is apparently was my learning style now requires.
I guess what most bothered me was the sense I got that he was laying a trip on teachers about what they needed to bring to the table—and to the urban classroom—to be successful. And who could possibly bring more than Andrade? I am not saying this sarcastically. He is clearly an extraordinary individual with a genius, temperament, passion, and charisma that can inspire students caught in the most desperate circumstances. He is prepared to serve his students 24/7 in “wrap-around” schools that deal with every dimension of the community’s needs. Besides being a coach, he also serves as a high school English teacher and an associate professor in an education school. Teaching was a huge part of my life, so I “get” Andrade. Besides teaching, I was also a faculty adviser of the school paper. I organized vacation week field trips and a lot of other stuff. I could go on. But this guy makes me feel like I was a lay about. I did find myself wondering when he finds the time to grade papers or relate to his kids. (I had two, who also laid claim to some of that precious 24/7).
“Instead of searching for gold, try sinking a shaft to the gold within you. That is, discover your own genius and bring it to your students with as much commitment as you can, consistent with the other important and loving relationships in your life.”
While acknowledging his unique gifts and unmatched commitment, I would not advise young teachers who I mentored to “be like Andrade.” (Could Andrade’s approach even survive the Boston Public Schools, where the union imposes strict work rules and the administration has chronic standardized testing on the brain?). Rather, I would direct them to the advice Thoreau gives in his essay, “Life without Principle.” Instead of searching for gold, try sinking a shaft to the gold within you. That is, discover your own genius and bring it to your students with as much commitment as you can, consistent with the other important and loving relationships in your life. That genius, combined with knowledge of your subject matter, a caring about kids, and some good pedagogy may be enough.
Which brings me to Anna.
I was at [my partner school] the other day, when one of the hard-pressed staff asked me if I had the time to tutor a student who needed to finish a Humanities essay. It was kind of late—around 5 pm—but, hell, sure. As it turned out, the essay was pretty good though the writing needed was a little “glitchy” and needed smoothing out. The student, Anna, was very appreciative to receive this help. She explained to me that she was bi-lingual and preferred to write in Spanish. We worked together for just about an hour, and every once in a while just to break things up I’d ask her a question about her life.
Here’s what I learned:
She, her mom, and her three little sisters came from El Salvador. She is “like a dad” to her little sisters she said with a laugh, sharing in the parenting. Every night—I mean school nights—she works in a restaurant in the North End until 2 am. She gets 4 to 5 hours of sleep max. She is very excited to be graduating and will be the first in her family to go to college. She planned to go to Framingham State but Santa Clara University in California accepted her and has given her a full four-year scholarship. She is beyond excited about the life that awaits her– as is her Mom, even though she cries every day that this amazing daughter will soon be leaving for the coast.
And did I mention—well, I only learned this the next day—that she will be the valedictorian of her class?
OK, call it “hokey hope.” I call it Anna.
Bill Schechter is a member of the Aspire Institute’s Educator Mentor Corps , which mobilizes skilled, experienced educators to prepare, inspire, and retain those entering the field. Please visit www.educatormentorcorps.tumblr.com for more information on EMC.