Remember those “paternalistic” schools — since rechristened “no excuses schools” — that David Whitman wrote about this summer? Here’s one new Teach For America corps member’s tale of a visit to one of those schools, Newark’s North Star Academy:
I am not exaggerating when I say that the classrooms I observed today were the most inspirational thing I have witnessed since joining TFA. I literally started to cry in the first class I observed – partially because of stress and sleep deprivation, but mostly because of how amazing it was. It was fifth grade science, and the kids were doing things that I think of as impossible for my students. I know this doesn’t sound impressive to non-teachers, but they came into the classroom, got out their supplies, and began their Do Nows in under 30 seconds, in complete silence. They all raised their hands when the teacher asked a question, but they didn’t wave them around, call out, or lose it if they didn’t get picked. They set up, completed, and cleaned up a rather involved lab activity in just one period, and all the while stayed quiet, focused, and engaged. I did not hear a single side-conversation, a single comment that was not directly on task, or a single insult to another student.
She wonders how to bring back what she saw to her own classroom, and whether classroom strategies can work in the absence of a whole-school effort.
Would this new teacher think about leaving the regular public schools for a charter job at NorthStar? “I would give up a kidney, an ovary, a lung, anything, to work for them,” she says.
About our First Person series:
First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.