I Make A Speech
I tell this story because nothing in education is set in stone. Change is the expectation and the norm. Change is here in Oakland in the rethinking of schools and their relationship to district hierarchy. There is change for you: new zip codes, new challenges, a time to apply what you've learned, build new skills, re-apply and translate existing strengths. And as the challenges grow larger, the burden heavier, and the gaps wider, change is overdue for all teachers.
We are called to redefine the profession.
Gone are the days when, in the name of academic freedom, teachers could close their doors to the outside world: 1 cashier, 150 costumers, and no co-workers. This foregoing model of isolation is simply insufficient to meet the diverse and growing learning needs of our students. If we truly seek to make good on the promise of an equitable public education, and the true meritocracy it is designed to create, we must build coalitions among educators. We must cultivate allies within our school communities. We must be constant learners, endlessly seeking new opportunities and new avenues for increased student achievement.
If we are to redefine the profession, we must open those classroom doors and let in the bright sun of objective scrutiny and accountability. Even when it hurts, like last night's phone call. Especially when it hurts. As hard as it is to know that for all the late-nights and early-mornings, all the Saturday Academies and strategic interventions, you still came up short; as hard and painful as it is to accept that, it is harder and more painful still to be a young person without the skills to be successful. More than ever, the life outcomes of our students are predicated on what we will do every day. Their futures, and the futures of their families rest upon how well we will teach, how well we will collaborate, how well we will create the environments where learning can flourish.
Ninety percent of incarcerated criminals have no high school diplomas.
Two thirds of the freshman that begin high school in Oakland will not graduate.
We must do better.
We must bring about change in environments that have resisted meaningful reform for far too long. In so doing we must remember that just because we can't change everything, doesn't mean we can't change anything. We cannot change the curriculum, nor the standards they are designed to teach. We can make our teaching dynamic and powerful and impactful. We can foster success in all students, regardless of economics or background, attitude or aptitude, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or address.
We cannot change the fact that many of our colleagues leave the profession or leave the schools where they are most needed. We can make strong and lasting commitments to Oakland's families, dedicating ourselves to intervening at the breaking points and closing the teaching gap.
We cannot change how safe it is to walk down the streets and we cannot change what happens at the liquor store on the corner. We can create classrooms that are safe, positive environments in which students may grow and learn, places where they are supported and challenged, pushed to reach ever higher and higher.
We cannot change the existing racist and inequitable power structures that have eroded public education for generations. We can teach our kids that the surest insurrection is enlightenment. We can teach the basic skill and critical thinking that lead to empowerment. We can teach our kids the skills necessary to gain admittance to the culture of power and we can teach them how to make changes when they get there. We can teach. Zip codes should not determine achievement, and currently, they do. Demographics should not be destiny, and all too often they are. We cannot change these student factors, but we change the outcomes of limitation and failure they all too often predict.
We can and we must.
And it won't be easy. And there won't be many thank yous, not nearly enough. So I've got some for you now. Store them away for the lean times.
Thank you for being made of fire for the material you'll teach and the skills you will impart.
Thank you for being made of ice as you address misbehavior.
Thank you for being made of squishy, absorbent sponge as you strive to learn as much as possible about your students and new community.
Thank you for being made of steel, especially in October and February, when the kids will be testing you to see if No Excuses is a catch-phrase or a reality.
Finally, thank you on behalf of those who are not here tonight: the nearly 2,000 students whose lives you will impact, not only this year, but in all the many years to come.