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Work hard, get smart

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"...success depends less on intellectual endowment than on perseverance and drive. As Professor Nisbett puts it, “Intelligence and academic achievement are very much under people’s control."

I am tickled that Nicholas Kristof's New York Times' Op-Ed piece, "Rising Above I.Q." ranked as the No. 1 article emailed on Sunday. That means thousands of people are reading and thinking about the fact that most of us in education already know: No single ethnicity or race is smarter than any other. Rather, almost anyone who's willing to work really hard can be successful. As I learned in my initial Teach For America training, "Work Hard, Get Smart, Woo Woo!" For every person who doubts that kids can't learn simply because of their ethnicity or family background, I (and my teaching colleagues) have a kid to prove you wrong.

What resonated the most, however, are the implications or policy lessons of this concept:

"It’s that the most decisive weapons in the war on poverty aren’t transfer payments but education, education, education. For at-risk households, that starts with social workers making visits to encourage such basic practices as talking to children. One study found that a child of professionals (disproportionately white) has heard about 30 million words spoken by age 3; a black child raised on welfare has heard only 10 million words, leaving that child at a disadvantage in school.
The next step is intensive early childhood programs, followed by improved elementary and high schools, and programs to defray college costs."

While all this may be obvious to anyone working in education, it reminds us that the traditional school infrastructure is not designed to coach parenting skills, counsel students who are victims of abuse, or help students who don't get to eat on the weekends. Most social workers I know are worked to the bone but can't get to half of what they know must be done. Most high-needs districts don't have free intensive early childhood programs in place yet, and there aren't enough school psychologists to go around.

But these are the circumstances we and our children live in today, and serious student success can't wait for programs and resources to be designed and distributed. Here's a big thank you and take care to all the amazing educators who go way above and far beyond the job description to make sure students from all backgrounds have no excuses not to succeed, even if it means having Elroy's mom on speed dial, bringing in peanut butter sandwiches and staying after to tutor until 8 each night.

3 Comments

Jessica,
I appreciate the dedication that you and your fellow corps members make to your students. Reading your last two posts, however, I am left wondering about your conclusion that this is necessary because the students cannot wait. I think there are something like 4000 TFA corps members across the country -- enough to make a difference, but still far from what is truly needed. And in my district, the numbers show that three years in, only one in four corps members is still on the job. As a result, we must invest a lot of resources into mentoring and training the TFA and other interns who arrive each fall to replace those who have left the year before.

And you do not have children of your own yet. I have a hard time imagining you continuing to devote 80 hours a week to this work if you choose to raise a family of your own. So I guess I am left wondering how we can work to create a more sustainable model of systemic reform. Because while the needs of the students cannot wait, it does not seem as if expecting teachers to put in 80 hours a week will work in the long run either, especially if we want them to stay in the teaching profession long enough to make it a real career.

I think we need people to choose teaching as a career. We need them to stay for more than a few years, to develop the expertise and knowledge of their students that will allow them to teach effectively, and to mentor the newer teachers coming along.

"...staying after to tutor until 8 each night."

LOL
I used to be like you until I realized it was slowly killing me, not to mention effecting all aspects of my life beyond my chosen (and beloved) career.

I'm okay being a good teacher and doing the best I can do for my kids (as a lifelong learner, I honor my own development as a learner and that effects all aspects of what I do).

But Jessica, good teachers know their limits. They can only be there for their students (100%) if they take care of themselves and find balance between their work day and their personal lives.

It's not a missionary job, it's a profession, and while I'm a good teacher, I'm tired of being made to feel guilty for not serving a dozen roles that should be taken care of by students' families or their community.

I am NOT some kind of social caretaker. I'm an educator.

I wonder how much of my own zeal as a very young teacher (now I'm just "young") was effected by the Hollywood version of superhero teachers...? I wonder if yours is, too.

Keep doing what you're doing. Lord knows someone's got to pick up the slack of us reality-based folks in the field.

Just want to say your article is as amazing as it can get. The clarity in your post is just great and I can assume you're an expert on this subject. Well with your permission let me to grab your RSS feed to stay updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the good work.

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