Sunday, August 17, 2008

New teachers for MNPS: Priceless

Commentary by Cesar A. Muedas
Two days ago, the Nashville City Paper reported that Mayor Dean plans to raise one million dollars from private sources to pay for an organization that recruits teachers from professional backgrounds to Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). This is a strong show of leadership that we should all support, monitor meticulously and hold accountable to very high expectations. No doubt the money donors will encourage expediency and effectiveness. We will also have a School Board with a new composition observing, commenting and – God willing – not obstructing a partnership that will challenge traditional ways of selecting new educators. The roles and positions of the central MNPS administration, the local teachers' union (MNEA) and of the TN Department of Education overseers has yet to be explicitly described for this new initiative.
The vision is clear and commendable: to select highly qualified individuals to pursue alternative certification paths and to give top priority to the areas of math, science and special education. Is a formal certification just one of many requisites to be a successful teacher? Probably so, and your perspective on what makes an excellent teacher may steer your own sentiments from an extreme of skepticism and sarcasm (“those who can, do; those who can't, teach”) to heights of hope and idealism (“those who can, do; those who care, teach”). Aside from perception and subjectivity, have you hugged an MNPS teacher lately? Did you talk to your child's new teacher last Monday? Are you going to attend
your school's first PTO/PTA/PTSO meeting next week? When was the last time that you walked down the hallway of your child's school and run into a smiling and friendly board school member or Director of Schools?
[I cannot help myself answer personally to the last question because it happened to me last Monday. I shook hands with Mr. Henson after walking my children to their new classrooms at Glendale Elementary.]

Effective public education demands an ongoing social contract that is examined, enforced and executed by every single stakeholder in society. In our country today, public education is the last experiment not of social engineering but of social architecture. Obviously not everyone is an architect, but each of us must have a building role in the education enterprise. Yes, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem; it is that simple. Sharp critics reiterate their disgust for failures of the past, incompetences of the present and lack of compass for the future. I prefer – and strongly encourage you – to resort to blunt individualism and deeply-rooted resilience: (1) Neither I nor my school-age children were involved in past failures of public schools, (2) I strive to be a competent parent, raising children to become competent adults in the profession of their choosing, and (3) there is an individual moral compass in the vast majority of Americans that inspired the creation of our country and that will continue setting the common North for future generations.
Caminante, son tus huellas el camino y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante no hay camino sino estelas en la mar...

Antonio Machado y Ruiz, in "Cantares"
b. Jul.26, 1875, Sevilla, Spain
d. Feb.22, 1939, Collioure, France

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