If you were a baker, and the flour was brought to you full of maggots and worms, you could not be expected to produce good bread.”
This statement was made in the Colorado House of Representatives by Max Tyler (D-Lakewood), talking about a bill that would tie teacher evaluations to student academic growth. The bill’s sponsor was a TFA alumnus Michael Johnston (D-Denver). This quote provoked a rich discussion in our first plenary session at TFA’s 20th Anniversary Summit.
Christians know that education is not what ultimately prevents human flourishing. At the same time, we are readers of the Book, and if more people in America are not able to read well, our churches will slowly empty. Our cities will deteriorate.
We also recognize that humans are created in the image of a creative, rational God. This image animates every child in our country. That is why we should not be surprised when there are hundreds of schools now that prove that low-income students can achieve at the levels of their high-income peers, if they are lead by excellent teachers.
One teacher profiled in Kopp’s A Chance to Make History is Megan Brousseau, a first year biology teacher in South Bronx, the neighborhood once described by Jimmy Carter as “the worst slum in America.” To help her students prepare for the very challenging New York State Regents exam, Megan asked the principal to unlock her classroom on Saturdays to give her extra tutoring time. Most teachers don’t do this. The ones who do don’t usually expect many students to come. But instead of telling herself she had done enough, or that she couldn’t help those who didn’t want help, or that people in slums don’t value education, Megan got on the phone. On the first Saturday, 76 out of 80 students showed up to study biology. On their first try, 117 of Megan’s 120 students passed the Regents. The remaining three passed after practicing more with Megan.
Megan took a risk in approaching the principal, and calling her students’ parents, and teaching on Saturdays. In one sense she was giving. This is the more traditional leadership word. But I think “risk” better describes what the most successful leaders do. These leaders expand the scope of their effort, and in doing so, they cut themselves off from explaining their failure as the fault of others. If Megan had decided “I will help those students that want it,” she would have preserved for herself a tidy account of what went wrong in the case of a failing student (or for that matter, a class of failing students). What’s more, she would have been able to avoid a tremendous amount of work. But in order to help all her students pass (20% of whom were more than three grades behind), Megan took total responsibility.