“And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche”
This quote, by Geoffrey Chaucer was the inscription in the book, An Empty Spoon by Sunny Decker. Ms. Decker described her first two years of teaching at Gratz High School, an all-African American school in North Philly. I was in the 9th grade when I first read Ms. Decker’s book. I’ve since reread it multiple times; it was one of several books that inspired me to become a teacher. While written nearly fifty years ago, Ms. Decker’s experiences illustrate both the frustrations of a new teacher as well as her positive impact on her students.
We don’t talk enough about the positive impact teachers have on their students. Rather, the current political climate tends to blame teachers for many of education’s faults. However, research suggests that, among school-related factors, teachers matter most. When it comes to student achievement in reading and math, a teacher is estimated to have two to three times the impact of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership. That’s pretty impressive. Additional research concludes that effective teaching has the potential to help level the educational playing field. In 1966, James S. Coleman (a noted educational reformist) wrote, “the quality of teachers shows a stronger relationship [than school facilities and curricula] to pupil achievement. Furthermore, it is progressively greater at higher grades, indicating a cumulative impact of the qualities of teachers in a school on the pupil’s achievements. Again, teacher quality seems more important to minority achievement than to that of the majority.” Coleman’s statements hold true fifty years later!
Maya Angelou wrote, “This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture. I believe you can do it. I know what was done for me.”
We are grateful to those 723 individuals who chose to teach in a Cristo Rey School. We’re grateful to whomever or whatever inspired them to become a teacher. Maybe like me, it was a book, perhaps it was a special teacher or maybe it was the opportunity to have a positive impact on a group of students.
Teacher Appreciation Weeks begins today, Monday, May 8th and National Teacher Appreciation Day is tomorrow, Tuesday, May 9th. Our teachers’ many, many contributions to our students and our schools are both recognized and appreciated. Without each one, our Network would not have the transformative, life-changing impact it does. What a blessing they are to our students, their families and our schools. Truly, we are glad that you learned and thankful that you chose to teach.
George V. Fornero, Chief Academic Officer