The End of the Beginning
It seems as though the summer just started and that my work with KIPP Houston has just begun. In truth, it has. Even though my summer internship has ended, the lessons and experiences I can take from it will shape my choices, decisions, and career path for a lifetime. Here, I have included the top five lessons I have learned from working with a high-performing school system within an underserved, high poverty, minority area.
- Poverty is NOT an excuse for student failure. KIPP has a “No Excuses” policy for students, teachers, and schools. This attitude shapes student outcomes. KIPP has proven that underserved students can and will succeed given the right environment.
- A teacher can have a HUGE impact on a student, whether they want to, or not. That student who always gets written off by other teachers as a lost cause can completely turn around when a patient enough teacher gives them the time of day. Sometimes, all they need is a hug, or for teachers to expect more of them.
- Being perfect is not the answer, but neither is giving up. It’s important to realize that as a teacher, you’re not going to be perfect. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t always strive to be better. At schools like KIPP, everything is data-driven, so teachers want and expect feedback, and administrators expect outcomes. They don’t try to pretend that everything is perfect; they ask for critique and how they can be better.
- The little things do matter. “At-possibilities” vs. “at-risk”. More Time. Small changes that put students first make a difference.
- “The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who actually do.” (Steve Jobs). Still ringing clear in my ears. Don’t let the naysayers get you down. Surely, you can’t change the world single-handedly, but every day that you spend working towards ending educational inequity in the U.S. means something. It may not have an immediate, or widespread, affect but makes an improvement nonetheless.
There are so many ways you can make a difference and begin to change the state of our education system.
Get inspired. Watch Waiting for Superman.
Get involved. Join an organization (or start your own!), like Students for Ed Reform, and affect education reform policies in your state.
Get hands-on. Volunteer at a local school.
Get experience. Find an internship in ed reform.
Get committed. Join Teach for America.
“An installation of 857 empty school desks, representing the number of students nationwide who are dropping out every hour of every school day”
What can you do to make a difference?
What is it about KIPP schools that makes a difference?
My time at KIPP DREAM Prep and, more recently, assisting with the opening of KIPP Houston’s brand-new middle school, KIPP Courage, has been nothing short of amazing. The most notable difference, I believe, is the student/teacher and home/school relationships I’ve watched develop over a short two week period of summer school. Teacher talk almost always surrounds kids and how to better serve them. If a student misses a bus and doesn’t have a ride to school, someone is sent over to pick up the student from his or her home. If a family isn’t able to provide their student the resources they need for school, the school finds a way to get them those resources. If a student needs help on their homework, students have all of their teacher’s KIPP provided phone numbers and students are encouraged to call whenever they need help. Students even have a direct line to the principal. Every decision is made with student outcomes in mind.
This led me to ask some KIPP teachers a few questions to provide insight into what makes a KIPP teacher different.
“I love working with kids and learning with them.”
“I used to work in the corporate world while volunteering with the Boys and Girls Club. I ended up liking my volunteer work more than my job, so I decided that I needed to make a change.”
“I’ve always enjoyed working with kids and upper level math. I’ve always known I wanted to teach, and teaching 7th grade math was the combination of working with kids and with upper level math.
“Teach for America is what really got me into teaching.”
“In college I was interested in educational lobbying, but didn’t necessarily want to go to law school. I took a teaching assistant job and ended up finding my passion.
“I’ve always known I wanted to become a teacher. I changed my mind a thousand times growing up, but ended up coming back to teaching.”
“I love working with kids. I tutored in college and really enjoyed that experience, so I decided I wanted to teach.”
What’s the difference between a good teacher and an awesome teacher?
“All teachers can be good, bad, or awesome in a day, even in a half hour period. What makes the difference is whether the teacher makes the subject exciting and motivating for the students. The teacher’s excitement takes it to the level of awesome.”
“Teacher/student relationships make the difference. An awesome teacher affects students lives beyond when they walk out the classroom door.”
“An awesome teacher looks at what the students can be and does whatever it takes to get them there.”
“Awesome teachers are the ones who don’t slip. They know what needs to be done and make it happen. They always strive to be better.”
“Awesome teachers have a passion for and believe in what they are doing. They think they are going to make a difference and that this is what they are meant to do.”
“An awesome teacher is willing to change. She listens to her students and is always willing to improve no matter what.”
“An awesome teacher is always thinking about the best for students. They think about the end game, like parents. They prep their students for life, not just for the test next week.”
If this is the “formula” for running a highly successful school, why are so many failing schools allowed to remain unchanged?
Children are not “at-risk”. They’re “at-possibilities”.
Leafing through the Professional Development packet my first day at KIPP DREAM Prep, I was struck by this notion of changing around a few simple words. Being in education and working with students in urban areas, I so often hear the words “at-risk” to describe the students that I work with. Surely, in an area of Houston where the per capita income is less than $12,000, only 27% of the adults in the community are high school graduates, and only 4% have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, it’s easy to label these kids as “disadvantaged” and “at-risk”.
Has this community been neglected and underserved? Absolutely. Should educators not be concerned or not consider the special needs of this community? Of course not. It is important to acknowledge where your students are coming from in order to better serve them. It’s important to know that these kids are most likely going to be the first in their families to go to college. But what’s also important to remember is attitude and expectations. Because this community has been underserved and these students may not know they are capable of going to college does NOT mean that anyone should have lower expectations of them or a negative attitude towards their future. And I believe that is exactly why the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) works.
Despite the fact that, in most communities where KIPP serves, the average minority student has about a 7% chance of ever earning a college degree, KIPP refuses to lower their expectations of their students and their schools. KIPP still believes that 100% of KIPPsters will go to and through college. Expect any less, and that’s exactly what you’ll get. While KIPP schools haven’t quite reached their goal of 100%, they’ve gotten 85% of their students to college. Considering the demographics, some might say that 85% is good enough. But not KIPP. They’re continuously striving for 100% and never any less.
One of the reasons I have been attracted to working at KIPP is their No Excuses policy. This policy extends to teachers, students, parents, administrators, and entire schools. Being a part of KIPP’s professional development training for summer school has helped to solidify why KIPP is different. Even the little words that are so easily thrown around matter. We don’t think about our students as “possible high-school dropouts”. We think of them as “future college graduates”, possible doctors, lawyers, teachers. Surely, it will be a challenge. KIPP doesn’t call it the “mountain to college” for nothing. But that also doesn’t make it an excuse for not going at all. Not going is not an option.
Being a part of KIPP Houston’s Urban Education Experience program has already been such an amazing opportunity to have a window into the possibilities of education reform. What if all schools in all cities never expected any less of their students? What if all teachers, or even all citizens never expected any less of their schools? It seems a little crazy to think that every single student in every single city will be able to succeed. As KIPP often loves to quote: “The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who actually do.” (Steve Jobs). Maybe if we all get just a little crazier, the world will become a better place.
Announcing our 2012 Show Me Campaign Fellows
Congratulations and a warm welcome to our 2012 Show Me Campaign Fellows! Visit the Fellows page to meet these 10 amazing students and learn about the organizations they will be supporting this summer. From Philadelphia to Paraguay, they will be working hard to improve education and alleviate poverty using innovative solutions.
Follow this blog all summer to read about the Fellows’ unique experiences and gain new insights into how YOU can help change the world for the better.
The Show Me Campaign Team