Teachers who have seen "Waiting for Superman" - the documentary about the U.S. public education system - have many things to say about the film, which touches on such issues as charter schools, teacher's unions, tenure, all while following the educational lives of several different students around the country.
In a couple of previous posts, I spoke to Minnesota Principal Carol Markham-Cousins and Los Angeles Principal Donald S. Wilson to get their thoughts on the film. Now, Principal Paige Tracy of Arbor Ridge K-8 School in Orlando, Florida voices her opinions.
Q: What did you think of the film?
Tracy: I liked the film very much. I felt that it was done fairly and I did not think its intent was to negatively bash public schools across the country. It was more bringing about awareness of things public schools are lacking that would set students up for greater success. In order to have these critical elements in place, it's a matter of more funding from the federal government and more flexibility within school districts without being bound by teachers unions.
Q: Ah, the union. It was completely vilified in the film. Do you agree with its portrayal?
Tracy: Pretty much yes. We as school leaders are so bound by what we can or cannot do, when it comes to poor teaching performance in the classroom. I understood the lemon dance the film presented. That was an accurate portrayal.
Q: What about charter schools. They were portrayed as the answer to many problems in the public education system. Was that an accurate portrayal?
Tracy: The way I saw it was not so much that the film saw charter schools as the answer, but that it portrayed charter schools as having those things in place that public school don't have. Charters schools aren't bound by teacher contacts and teacher unions and different levels of funding.
Q: Was there anything you felt the film should have touched on, but didn't?
Tracy: I would have to say, maybe showing the things that public schools are doing well at and are doing right - even without all of the extras we aren't privileged to have like the charter schools have. There are so many success stories and so many other success rates going on. Maybe just pointing out some more positive things about public schools. Even though we are limited with out funding, with our flexibility, with our tight contracts, with our teacher unions, even though our hands are tied with so may things - we're able to overcome and do so many things well and do so many things right.
Q: Why has the quality of U.S. education fallen so badly in the last 40 years?
Tracy: One serious problem is the lack of follow up and support form the home environment. We get the students for six and half , seven hours a day, but there is so much that needs to go on beyond the school day. Often there is nothing going on (at home in terms of follow-up by the parents) between the end of one school day and the beginning of another. We lose them until they come back again the next morning to start all over again.
Q: So what does a principal do?
Tracy: I would want to address it with the parents. It takes getting them to believe and value education, to realize what needs to take place at home beyond the school day. It has to start with the parents being educated first. If there are less and less parents becoming educated themselves, when their own children come to school, they don't have a value for education.
Q: What is the key to an effective teacher?
Tracy: The teacher has to truly care about student learning. A teacher has to be passionate about whether or not every single student in his or her classroom is learning. First comes the caring, then comes the belief that every single student can learn, and then having a high expectation for every single learner.
Q: What are you thoughts on tenure?
Tracy: I don't believe in tenure. Quite honestly there are teachers - and I've had them in my experience - who should not be in the classroom teaching, but it would take an act of Congress to get removed form the classroom.
Q: What do you do in that case?
Tracy: You saturate that teacher with all kinds of training and workshops and staff developments. I send every available support person that I have in the school and send them in to the classroom where it's needed. It might be with classroom management, it might be with reading, it might be more about the teacher needing more time to teach and not spend time managing behaviors. I provide a great deal of support.
Q: Does it work?
Tracy: I've seen all of it work, I've seen some of it work and I've seen it none of it work.
Q: If you could meet anyone from the film, who would it be?
Tracy: I would want to meet Anthony, the 5th grader from Washington D.C.. I would want to know how things are going for him at the SEED charter school. Out of all of the students at we followed, for some reason, his was the one that just stuck with me, more than anybody else. I wanted him to achieve his goals and really get what he was going after. In one statement to the narrator when he was interviewed, he said: 'I just want to go to school.' That just clutched at my heart and it never left me. He said it from the heart and with such passion. I was really pulling for him.