A Tale of Two Back to School Nights

Excitement and enthusiasm were in the air as teachers in my new high school in a middle class neighborhood prepared their classrooms by decorating their bulletin boards, displaying student work, and straightening desks. Welcome messages abounded, Remind.com messages were sent, and we opened our doors to meet the parents.
I have done these events for 24 years, four times a year at my former school in South Central L.A. But this year’s Back to School Night left me reflecting, and perhaps shedding a tear.
First, my new parents were fantastic. They were friendly, enthusiastic, and supportive of the new ideas I bring to the school. I knew in them I would have allies to incorporate my findings from my Fulbright exchange in Finland earlier this year. Parent after parent nodded their heads and strongly affirmed that break time was important to students, teachers, and workers in general. They were excited to hear about the summer travel programs I had prepared.
As I looked at their warm and s…

Moving at 47

It was the late ‘70’s and there was a televised show based on the Hardy Boys mysteries (who else has that collection?) that captured my attention. This particular episode was based in the city of New Orleans during Mardi Gras time. The visual images captured my imagination: people wearing masks, losing their identities and adopting new ones, dancing and parading on the streets, the music…well, I was hooked. I knew at age eight or nine that I would be visiting New Orleans and as many other places in the world where I could discover a different kind of mystery and magic than what I saw in my own neighborhood.

Almost 40 years later, some might say I took this to the extreme by moving to one of the colder climates in the world, the country of Finland, for 5 months to study the school system.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you will know there is a special urgency that underlies the reason for applying for this Fulbright. Other than educators who work in impacted communities, few people believe in the quest for the educationally excellent practices for students and teachers in communities such as South Central L.A. What is excellence?

I believe you cannot make significant changes in troubled schools unless you have highly competent, well-trained, and supported teachers. Unlike Finland, teachers in the U.S. are considered expendable workers who merit little respect. “Those who can’t do, teach.” Some schools and districts get it right, others, not so much. In my 20+ year career I have ridden the wave of different approaches to supporting teachers and have tried to make support as many new teachers as possible with the New Teacher Roundtable. But in the meantime, I have tried to advance my own excellence and blaze a path for those who might come after me. Excellence is recruiting and retaining talented teachers at all schools.

Excellence means getting out of your comfort zone and elevating the profession by sharing your own special skills with others.  I know so many teachers with a gift, but who are too shy or humble, or don’t believe in themselves enough to share with others outside of their school. When was the last time you presented at a conference, or applied to be on a district committee? Or encouraged a talented teacher to share their gifts on a wider level?


The students don’t know if a lesson you teach comes from Finland, Singapore, or Ms. Mickey from down the hall (although they crack me up when they come to report that a teacher stole your lesson). But you as a teacher know you’ve achieved excellence when you see that light of comprehension in a student’s eyes, or the look of deep understanding.

Moving at age 47 to this country called Finland on a program called Fulbright will allow the students at my school to know that if this daughter from a "shithole country" can represent the United States of America on a prestigious fellowship, then so can they. Excellence means leaving behind a recognizable legacy for the next generation. I hope I am at least partially successful.


Popular posts from this blog

FULBRIGHT: Countdown: Day 7

"There Are No Emergencies"