When Life Gives You Lemons…

Thursday was our final day of service working with the Center City Charter Schools. It was bittersweet walking the hallways, bustling with the mirth of students for the last time. I knew, however, that my team members and I had done our part, and a new project was awaiting us at the Boys and Girls Club.

Like the prior day, we were divided among the classrooms at the Trinidad campus and assigned to teachers of different grade levels. Having already experienced the atmosphere of  one class-year the day before, upon arriving at Trinidad our group quickly dispersed throughout the building based on the age group of each person’s choice. Still a bit puzzled by the layout of the school, I hesitantly climbed the flight of stairs and located the  Spanish teacher’s office. Hoping to spend my morning facilitating lessons in Spanish and interacting with the kids in another language, I was slightly disappointed when I was she explained to me that she only had two classes and that my time would be better spent with another teacher. Not knowing where else to go, I begrudgingly trudged my way back to where I had been on Wednesday, the fourth grade class.

Before I elaborate any further, I want to make it clear that the students in the fourth grade class were wonderful. I was impressed by how welcoming they were, especially to a complete stranger such as myself. Each pupil had such a passion eagerness to learn that I only wish I possessed at their age . My reluctance to re-visit the fourth grade has nothing to do with the students, but was entirely due to my opinion of their teacher.

As highlighted in “Waiting for Superman,” there is a term used to describe incompetent teachers who, despite being ineffective educators, have tenure and therefore remain in the system. These teachers, collectively called lemons, reinforce the negative stereotype of the “bad teacher.”

Yesterday had been disheartening. The teacher had spent the entire day complaining about how “difficult” her job is and criticizing her students. In reality, she didn’t do any teaching, and ended the class period by giving the kids “quiet time.” The fourth graders were instructed to put their head down and rest, while the teacher relaxed in the back of the room and showed me pictures in her wedding book. To my alarm she even instructed one student to bring her her purse from her desk so she could look for her cell phone.

After what I had witnessed the day before, it was hard to believe that I wasn’t in the midst of a lemon, but for the sake of the fourth graders I desperately wanted to believe that the teacher simply had a bad day. Sitting in on her the class for the second day in the row, I realized that I wasn’t mistaken. Although the teacher was on better behavior, under her poor direction the class wasn’t taught.

Now, more than ever, I understand the influence of a teacher on a child’s education. Equally important to monetary funding in providing  reform in  America’s public schools is that  each classroom is lead by a quality educator.

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