On Friday, not long after the jingle ended, I went to see the movie “Waiting for Superman” with my senior producer Nikki Woods and writer Mary Boyce, a.k.a. Mamas Gone Wild. If you haven’t seen it yet, “Waiting for Superman” takes a look at the public school system in this country, shows us how jacked up it is and, in the end, lets us know that basically, there’s nothing we can do about it.
When we left the theater, all three of us needed a drink — the two of them because they each have school-age children, and me because they both have school age children. I felt for them and every parent like them in this country who has to figure out how to provide the best education possible for their kids.
At lunch, following the movie, over chips and salsa, we came to somewhat of a conclusion: That weather you’re rich or poor, whether you’re privately or publicly educated, whether you’re an over-achieving A-student or a satisfied-with-a- C kind of person, having the good fortune of having good parents is half the battle and puts you ahead of the game.
That reality should be a beacon of hope to some and a wake-up call to others. But for everybody raising children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, godchildren and foster children, it gives you a bit of control in an otherwise topsy turvy, wishy-washy crap shoot, more commonly known as the public school system.
And if you’re like a lot of people who think that teaching is a noble profession, living in the suburbs guarantees a good education or charter schools will be your salvation, this movie challenges all those beliefs. Teachers are gansgsta, according to this documentary. The teachers unions are like the Mafia that protects all teachers, the good and the horrible, making it pretty much impossible to fire them once they reach tenure status.
So, when a bad teacher disappears from a public school, they more than likely find another job at a different one, with no incentive to get better or do better. And it’s your child’s loss – for real. Because they pointed out that more than a fancy laptop, more than having new books and more than tutoring programs, the thing that has the biggest impact on your child’s success – from year to year, grade to grade – is his or her teacher.
A great teacher contributes to higher learning, higher grades, higher test scores and higher interest in school overall. And – you guessed it – a bad teacher contributes the exact opposite. If you’re not that parent who has some kind of close connection with the insiders at your school, by the time you figure out which teachers are best, the PTA president, the home room mom and their closest friends have already got the A-1 teachers on lock. More gangsta stuff, I might add.
But if you’re like a lot of parents, you’re putting your faith in the same system that got you where you are today, as you proudly say, “I didn’t turn out to bad.” Like the Mamas Gone Wild, you’re working every day and hope and pray that the people teaching your babies are doing what they’re paid to do. And what they may be lacking or slacking, you will fill in the gap at home.
My heart and prayers go out to the Nikkis and Marys – and the dads too – who are trying to do it all: Work, provide, entertain, churchify and nurture their kids … and be responsible for them getting the education they need. Everybody, including me, is focused on higher education because we realize that without a college degree, life is going to be a lot tougher than it is without one. But if we don’t find a way to fix the foundation, everything we build will continue to be sub par, and we’re fooling ourselves to think otherwise. Throwing money is it isn’t the answer, but directing it toward teachers who have a heart and dedication to teach children, in spite of the circumstances, is.
Yes, I know – teachers today have to go in their pockets to buy school supplies, but guess what? Teachers who love to teach have been doing that for generations. I agree with Michelle Rhee, the controversial Washington D.C school superintendent featured in the movie, who challenged the teacher’s union. She believed that the best teachers should make the most money, and their pay should be based on performance. Like most people on most jobs, teachers should be held accountable for their actions and penalized when they fall short. The powerful union wasn’t having any of that, though.
FYI, Michelle Rhee resigned from that position just last week, not long after Mayor Adrian Fenty, who appointed her was defeated in his city’s primary.
It’s clear that no one person, not Superintendent Rhee nor Superman, is coming to save our schools. But super parents can come close.
In an imperfect world with an imperfect school system, parents have to be diligent, strong and sober enough to carry the burden of co-educating their children and filling in the gaps. It’s a huge undertaking when either both parents are working or one parent is doing it alone, but it has to be done.
I’ve still got plenty of love for teachers and public schools, so please don’t take this blog as an attack. If you’re a good teacher, you welcome parents’ involvement in the school and work together to do what all good workers should be doing, whether you’re teaching, rapping or CEO of a major corporation — putting out the best product you possibly can. And when you don’t do that, it should hit you where it hurts: Your paycheck.