Sunday, August 07, 2005

Institute Directing

We held closing ceremonies for the Institute Friday. I gave a speech. This is what I said:

Congratulations on completing the 2005 Oakland Teaching Fellows Summer Training Institute. Tonight marks the culmination of a journey started six weeks ago in June, a time for reflection and celebration. In the days and weeks to come you can enjoy a change of pace, a chance to prepare before the regular season begins. No one will ask you to write in a feedback folder, or decipher any of the hundreds of educational acronyms, or analyze the measurability of a lesson objective. For the next few days at least there will be no chasing after kindergartners who got lost on the way to morning meeting, no coaxing that senior back into a desk for the last ten minutes of geometry, no waiting in the cold a.m. fog in front of Skyline for the last bus to arrive. You will probably not hear the words “professional dress.” And for many, you will take this opportunity to not eat at least one meal a day from Albertson’s.

As you look toward the first day of school, you are now prepared to determine the areas in which you need to focus, the tasks that must be accomplished before you are handed the keys to room 14, or P-12, or 325. You now have the knowledge base and the experience to decipher acronyms on your own, measure your own lesson objectives, make the plans to build a no excuses classroom.

That first day of school, however, will come sooner than many of us believe possible, and with it comes the fulfillment of all the hard work over the last six weeks, the end point of a journey that, in truth, began long before, back when each of you made the commitment to improve the educational opportunities for Oakland students, become part of its diverse communities, and relentlessly working to raise academic achievement in the subject areas of greatest need.

I imagine each of you began this undertaking with a firm idea of what teaching would be like; you probably had a clear mental image of how you and your students would work in beautiful harmony from the second class began up until the very moment the day ended. I’m guessing it didn’t take long for reality to intrude rudely on those idyllic images. But you also began with the firm belief that all students, regardless of economics or background, attitude or aptitude, ethnicity, gender, religion or address can and must succeed. And there is no experience, no reality, that can weaken that belief. There is no bad day, no challenging student, no physical or emotional disability, no environmental factor that can rob us of that simple, powerful conviction: All students will learn.

It’s the simple ideas that move mountains.

As you reflect on your Institute experience, I hope you are proud of the progress you have made as educators, and proud of the success you have already shared in during your time working with summer school students. As I reflect on this experience, I am proud to have worked with so many amazing people. I think it only appropriate to recognize the extent to which their efforts have shaped this training.

First, I’d like to recognize our Operations Coordinator, K.G., for all the hard work she put in, often behind the scenes, to ensure that the logistical operations ran smoothly.

I’d next like to recognize an individual who possesses a profound commitment to improving education in Oakland, someone who truly embodies the very fiber of the term “culture of excellence.” She is inspiring. Our Site Manager, L.B.

Except for one semester of collegiate newspapering, I have never worked as part of a more talented or focused team than this summer. Every day, our Fellow Advisors brought their considerable experience, knowledge, and energies toward the task of preparing 49 individuals to become outstanding teachers in high needs schools. Every day, they worked hard, overcame challenges, and never wavered in their professionalism, or their good cheer. In the seminal Cold War movie Top Gun, Maverick and his side-kick Goose gain access to a privileged academy for fighter pilots. It’s restricted, and on their first day their gruff instructor reminds them that only the best of the best get in. If such an academy were ever created for educators, they would have to reserve the first five spots for R.A., N.B., S.B., W.B., J.D.

And finally, I’d like to thank you. Without your hard work and dedication, this program would not be possible. I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank you on behalf of some people who could not be here tonight. I’d like to thank you on behalf of the over 500 students – and their families – whose lives you will impact this fall. I’d like to say thank you for creating safe, positive environments in which those students may grow and learn, places where they are supported and challenged, pushed to reach ever higher and higher. I’d like to thank you for them, for proving to anyone who cares to listen that low achievement is not indelibly inscribed on the lives of these young people.

The great Irish poet Yeats wrote, “Teaching is not the filling of a pail; it is the lighting of a fire.”

He’s right. As you work this fall to light that fire, and labor to keep it burning throughout the winter and into spring, you will find the going undeniably tough, the road steep and more than a little bumpy. At such times it may be helpful to remember the words of a slightly more contemporary poet, The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, who wrote, “We made a promise we swore we’d always remember / No retreat, baby no surrender.”

The weird thing was, when I finished and ceremonies were over, I basically got offered a job as a vice-principal at an unspecified school by a woman who may or may not have the technical authority to offer someone without an administrator's credential that type of position.


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