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Watch: Schools Matter

A look at the remarkable impact schools can have in the wake of devastation.
 
 
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This article oringinally appeared at Taking Note, a blog of LearningMatters.tv. To support the work of Learning Matters, please visit their new Kickstarter campaign.

Maybe it takes a crisis to remind us of what should be obvious — and certainly that was my own take-away from the PBS NewsHour report about the elementary school in Belmar, New Jersey, that my colleagues John Tulenko and David Wald produced. In that short and powerful segment, you saw (and felt) just how important schools are to their communities. You can watch the segment here:

Watching those teachers and the assistant principal delivering food and blankets to stricken families, and later welcoming them into the school (still without power) and feeding them was deeply moving. And if you were not touched when assistant principal Lisa Hannah related her conversation with one child — “A little girl, when we opened up the school for lunch today, she’s walking in the dark because the lights were not on. She said, ‘oh, I’m so happy to be back at school. I feel so safe” — I think you need a heart transplant.

The kids got books too because, as assistant principal Hannah told John and David, she’s always looking for ways to “sneak in a little bit of education.”

We live in a time of widespread criticism of teachers and administrators. Of course, all educators fall short some of the time — but so do doctors, nurses, lawyers, cops, and storekeepers (and even journalists!). Some teachers fail more often than that, and a few simply can’t cut it and don’t belong in classrooms, but the vast majority of the teachers I have observed in 38 years as a reporter are hardworking and dedicated. They want to succeed.

Teachers play multiple roles, and, as we saw in John and David’s piece, sometimes they volunteer for additional duty that goes beyond the call. We know that the typical teacher spends a lot of her (or his) own money on school stuff. And as John once reported from Green Bay, Wisconsin, schools and teachers also step up to care for homeless kids:

The trend now is use scores on standardized tests as the measure of a teacher’s value, and it’s popular to say that teachers are the key to student learning. “Outstanding teachers give kids the skills and knowledge they need to escape poverty,” and so on. To my ears, some of the people who say this are blowing their own brand of smoke, trying to put one over on us. As I see it, they are setting up most teachers (and public schools) to fail, because, while that recipe works for a few kids, poverty is a separate problem that those ‘supporters’ are happy to ignore. We have a growing income gap that ought to embarrass all Americans, and the people who put it on teachers to solve poverty ought to be ashamed of themselves. They are, at the end of the day, no friends of the teaching profession.

And you know who you are.

John Merrow is a veteran education reporter for PBS, NPR, and dozens of national publications. He is President of Learning Matters, a 501(c)(3) media production company based in New York and focused on education. He is also the author of The Influence of Teachers.