I love to have conversations about how I would improve public education. I think those conversations are important and worth having, but I've got to admit that they seem pretty irrelevant after days like yesterday. I am a math teacher in a charter school in Albuquerque, and I work really hard to make sure my students have a top-notch math education. However, the reality is that I don't reach all of them and that they aren't getting the same level of math education that I did as a high schooler in an upper middle class suburb of Detroit. In some ways, their education is better than mine was - there is more concern for relevance and higher order thinking. There is also a whole lot more apathy, less work accomplished, and less attention to students with special needs - and it's my fault!
When I hear about "excellent teachers," I'll admit that I consider myself one of them. Maybe I shouldn't, but I do work really hard in general and I constantly make changes to improve my teaching techniques and content. I communicate with parents and I have high expectations. The truth is just that getting students in traditionally low-performing schools to perform as well (on high stakes tests or otherwise) as students from traditionally high-performing schools is THE HARDEST THING EVER. It takes so much more than just being smart, cool, or organized. It takes consistent, relentless, creative hard work that encroaches into all other areas of your life. And people have conversations about how our schools are failing and our teachers need to do a better job like it's nothing.
I don't intend that we give up, but we need to keep in mind the difficulty of the task at hand when discussing the future of public education. It only took me 1 summer to start forgetting what it's like in the classroom. Just because I had some successes getting last year's students to care about math doesn't mean I have less of an uphill battle starting off this year. It seems like anyone who's in a position to make major decisions affecting education needs to spend time in some of the toughest classrooms and talking to the teachers who are in charge of them.