We repair our faults. That is what makes us great.
One day, around the start of the school year, I escorted my granddaughter to Thorndyke Road School with clear instructions from her mother to not let her out of my sight until she entered the school building.
Truth be told, I didn’t feel I needed the reminder. Still, I took it in stride. The threats against children come from so many directions these days that letting my bruised ego trump a mother’s instinct to protect her child would have been indefensible.
And as fate would have it, I found myself struggling to honor my daughter’s instruction immediately on arriving at the school. I thought I was lucky in finding an open and convenient parking spot, only to realize soon after I had parked in the school bus drop-off zone.
I was half way out the car when I saw the school’s principal, Ms. Lee, signaling me to move it. My granddaughter, meanwhile, had already alighted and was running hard towards the playground at the back of the school.
I explained to Ms. Lee my reluctance in leaving my granddaughter
unattended while I moved my car.
“What’s her name,” she asked.
I barely got the first name out, when Ms. Lee responded with
“Oh, she is fine,” she said.
“Don’t worry about her. She runs the school.”
And to chase any lingering doubts I may have had, Ms. Lee got
on her walkie-talkie and instructed one of her staff members monitoring the playground
to keep an eye on my granddaughter, while I moved my car.
I would like to believe Ms. Lee’s show of compassion that day would have been matched by any other principals in the Worcester public schools.
I can’t say for sure it would. But I can say with certitude, based on my experience covering the schools, that some of the best and most compassionate educators in the country have and continue to work in the Worcester public schools.
We ought to acknowledge this more often, because we greatly depend on our educators to honor their cherished duty in helping each generation be the best they can be. And many have gone above and beyond in doing so.
Indeed, most of us, no matter the quality of our overall school experience, can perhaps look back and point to one or two teachers or educators who among the others cared deeply about us academically and as a person.
I have told the story of my secondary-school teacher, Ms. Graham, who came to tutor me at my bedside, after I had fallen ill the school-week leading up to a critical exam which, with her after-hours help, I would pass with flying colors.
The late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, who died last week at age 68, often told the story of his struggles as an early learner, and how he was rescued in the sixth grade by a new teacher, named Hollis Posey.
At the time, Mr. Cummings had felt trapped and frustrated from
being assigned to a special education class.
“I felt I was better than that,” he would recall.
Mr. Posey, he said, arranged for him to get after-school
tutoring at the local library, “with the regular arithmetic books and the
regular reading books.”
“The people that helped me the most were the librarians…They were supposed to get off at 7 o’clock, but they stayed at until 9, 9:30 helping me, and they were white, but they believed in me.”
“That’s why I like to remind people that there are a lot of good people, all colors. “…there’s some bad ones, too. But there’s a lot of good people who really care.”
Mr. Cummings would go on to win Phi Beta Kappa honors at
Howard University before earning a law degree from the University of Maryland
School of Law.
His colleague in the U.S House of Representatives, James Clyburn, summed Mr. Cummings sixth-grade experience in a guest appearance on Morning Joe this week.
“This country is great not because we are more enlightened than any other people …but because we are able to repair our faults,”
“…When a teacher saw that fault (Elijah being placed in
special education), he moved to repair it.”
We repair our faults. That is what makes us great.
When the Worcester school system’s student enrollment is over 70 percent and its teaching staff is over 84 percent white, asking for a more diverse teaching staff is repairing a fault.
It is a fact that the system is still suspending minority children at a high rate, to include 356 students 10-years-old and under since the last school year and May of this year. It’s a fact many minority students are still struggling academically, so pressing for alternative discipline practices and teaching strategies are merely steps to repair faults.
The best educators spend almost every waking moment thinking of ways to help their students succeed. They do not turn up at school committee meetings, as some have been doing over the past several years, to publicly dismiss the legitimate concerns their students’ parents.
The best teachers checks their politics at the school door.
They do not take out full-page ads in the local newspaper, as many did this year in signing their names to their union’s support of the status quo.
A teachers’ union should at least equally fight for the self-interests of students as it does for those of its membership.
It shouldn’t nonchalantly dismissed a field of young, diverse, educated and visionary school committee challengers, as it did this year by throwing all its endorsements to the incumbents, several of whom seem quite comfortable leaving minority children defenseless against the threats they face in the school system.
It is absolutely fair for the parents of students of color to ask why there so much resistance to mending the faults of our school system. It is natural that they would want someone to look out for the welfare of their children in our public schools?
And it is also fair to say a few of the incumbents on the current school committee seem quite unrepentant in their stance not to fix the system’s faults.
“I believe School Committee members are the face of the
district, and I take that responsibility very seriously,” School Committee
Member John Monfredo said with a straight face at a candidate’s forum at
Mechanics Hall Wednesday evening.
This from a man who comfortably told us that in his more than 40 years as an educator in the school system he saw no sign of racism. This is the man who now says he is the face of the city.
Yes, there ae some wonderful teachers and principals in the
Worcester public schools, and there is evidence that they are making a
difference in the lives of many young people.
But it is also true that those good educators are being ill-served by some of their colleagues, and by an administration, a school committee and a teachers’ union seemingly willing to let the faults in the school system go unrepaired– all out of self-interests and inflated egos.