When I read about remarkable teachers, I often come across terms that describe varieties of schools I have never heard of before. One such example is the term “suffrage schools.” These schools were first developed by suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt, a trained teacher, in 1917, for the purpose of training women volunteers to become politically effective in their efforts to win the vote for women.
The curriculum of a suffrage school included such topics as public speaking, the organization of the U.S. government, the history of the suffrage movement, how to develop a good relationship with the press, and how to use the press for influencing the electorate. Eventually the lessons taught in these schools paid off, for women won the right to vote with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919.
You can read more about suffrage schools in my upcoming book, tentatively titled Chalkboard Heroes.
It seems to me that in every teacher’s career, there comes a desperate moment in which we just want to be understood. We fervently wish that the public, the parents, and the media comprehended just how dedicated we are to our students, and just how hard we work on their behalf, and just how tough the job is. Tony Danza goes a long way to build this understanding in his 2012 book I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High.
Having already earned his degree in history and his teaching credential, Danza accepted a position as a first-year teacher in an inner-city school in Philadelphia, partly because he had always wanted to teach and decided now would be a good time in his career to explore that option, and partly because the experiment could be turned into a reality show that, Danza hoped, could accomplish some genuine good by turning an empathetic spotlight on our nation’s over-worked, over-criticized, and under-paid teachers.
Throughout the book, Danza provides an insider’s perspective on many of the topics that dominate political discussion in the media and professional conversation in the teachers’ lounge, including such topics as funding cuts, high-stakes testing, high absenteeism, student apathy, and lack of parental involvement. It’s amazing how he hit the nail on the head with every chapter.
I loved this book, and how Danza eloquently voiced the frustrations of practically every teacher in America. Most importantly, I loved how much his genuine affection and respect for his students, and his strong commitment to do right by them, shines through the frustrations. It’s an inspirational book I recommend you read before going back to the classroom in the Fall. You can find it on amazon at I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had.
Many educators around the country are very familiar with AVID, a program designed to show minority and other under-represented students how they can succeed in a college environment. The acronym, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, truly measures up to its hype.
The program was originated in 1980 by chalkboard champion Mary Catherine Swanson, who was an English teacher at Clairemont High School in San Diego, Southern California. At the time, her school, which had a predominately white student population, was preparing a slate of remedial courses to serve an influx of minority students in response to court-ordered integration. But Swanson insisted that with appropriate academic tools and support, minority and other under-represented students could thrive in a rigorous academic atmosphere, and she set about establishing a program that would prove her point. The AVID program she developed offers strategies for note-taking and test-taking, peer mentoring, tutoring, and cultural field trips. Her efforts have positively affected the lives of over 400,000 students since the program’s inauguration.
Since 1980, statistics have shown the overwhelming success of the program. Those statistics show that of those students enrolled in AVID, 95% go on to enroll in a four-year college, and 85% of them graduate. The program is so highly successful that it has been instituted in 4,500 high schools in 45 states and 16 countries around the world.
Mary Catherine Swanson, who refused to dummy-down a rigorous academic program and insisted her students were capable, is truly a chalkboard champion.