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Feeling Down? Think Public Ed has Failed? Read This!

This is a good week to remember heroic teachers: the teachers who led their children, holding hands, away from the smoking World Trade Center towers on 9/11; the teachers in Baton Rouge and Houston who welcomed a dozen terrified "Katrina kids" into their already-overcrowded classrooms, improvising seating, books and assignments.

This amazing story from Vermont crossed my desktop today:moretown school art class.jpg

I'm sure you've all heard about Hurricane Irene's effects on our small, beautiful state. Maybe you've also heard about the heroic efforts of the state's teachers in ensuring that students have a school to attend. I just came back from one such school in tiny Moretown, a community hard by the Mad River (in the heart of the most beautiful valley in the state) that was devastated by flooding.

The school building is still uninhabitable (the only such school so designated in the wake of the flooding) but the school itself is in session. I've attached a picture of an elementary art teacher doing her thing in a large tent, one of a half dozen tents that substitute for classrooms. It was pouring rain today, but teachers, students and even the principal wore smiles.

The flooding hasn't hurt attendance; only one absence was reported this week, and that because the student's family couldn't make it because of a washed-out road. The principal gave the teachers the option of not starting school until the building was ready, but the faculty enthusiastically and unanimously said they'd rather work.

Why would they rather work? Because they know that keeping things as "normal" as possible when a child's world turns upside down is critical to their emotional health. Because going to school is kids' "job"--returning to work as soon as possible keeps them on track. Because important learning can happen anywhere and at any time. You don't need a school building.

At this time when our members are facing an unprecedented attack, unrelenting pressure and economic setbacks, it is heartwarming to see when teachers are left alone to do what they do, extraordinary things happen.

Heartwarming, indeed. Contrast this story with a remark made by Andy Rotherham (in a wonderful piece at Salon, about how standardized testing has pinched curriculum into tedious and uninspiring--but "measurable"--nuggets). It's not the mandated, high-stakes, keep-your-job accountability-testing overload, asserts Rotherham--it's instruction that's to blame when school is boring. Teachers simply can't "get over the bar," and miraculously turn test prep into exciting learning.

Check out the photo. Here's one teacher getting over a very high bar, using clipboards, imagination and good instruction to serve kids well. Her students will always remember the art lessons in the tent, even when they've long forgotten bubble-in tests.

One more thing: the Moretown teachers are members of VT-NEA. So much for the supposed laziness of unionized teachers, caring only about themselves and not the kids.

Thank you, Moretown teachers, for representing your profession with excellence and grace.

Photo credit: Darren Allen, VT NEA

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