Waiting for Superman?

Last night I saw “Waiting for Superman.”  I have read the reviews.  I have read multiple educators trash the film.  And so the film started and I patiently waited to watch the film, so that I could leave the theatre and also write a post trashing the film.  I waited…and waited …and waited.

But…I walked out inspired.

I got the message that I can make a difference.

I have taught at schools just like the ones that were in the movie.  I did watch kids suffer at the hands of the “lottery” system.  I did watch kids suffer at the hands of teachers who had no business ever being hired…or kept around year after year.  I did see no change year after year and a constant flow of administrators being shuffled into positions that they had no business being in.

I don’t know if I have the right to say this…but I get “Waiting for Superman.”

I really empathized with the folks in the film.  I get trying to find fault in the teachers and teacher’s union.  I get trying to find hope in the charter and magnet school system.

I get “Waiting for Superman” because many of the “supermen” that school systems bring in are usually bringing Kryptonite.

Yes, you may disagree with the evidence that the movie uses, but the raw hopelessness of the victims is real.  If I lived in the neighborhood that fed to my old school, I would rather have my child a KIPP school, or the most regimented test prep charter school in the county.  I would choose safety, respect, and happiness over a “drop-out factory.”  Tell me you wouldn’t do the same for your kid.  It would be a better use of your time to try to get your kid out, than it would to try to change things while they are in.  I think before anyone trashes the movie, they should simply stop and consider why it was made.

I know we all want to support teachers.  We want to put blame somewhere else.  We want to blame the managers without taking shots at the players.  Recently there was a tweet that asked “Please tell me one good thing about the educational system.”  The number one response that I saw while I was on was “the teachers.”  What I don’t understand is if we are so great, and the kids only spend time with us…then why are there problems.  The kids are not in class with the administrators, the superintendents, the board of education.  They are not spending every minute of their day with the State Department of Education officers, or any Federal Education Department members.  They spend their entire day with teachers…and somehow we should be totally free from blame?

If a survey was given to a random sampling of teachers, not folks who read this or other blogs…what do you think would be the top five things they would change in their school?
Discipline policy?
Dress Code?
Standardizing curriculum?
Scheduling concerns?
Prep period infractions?

How many of the top five would simply be procedural changes?  How many of the top five would be things that occur outside of student/teacher contact time?  How many would come up with a list that would actually change the culture of the school?  Change how teachers and students actually interact?  If a stranger sat in a class before and after the changes…would they see difference?  Or would changes be made to simply solidify adult control of the building.  Go ahead…name one change in your school that gave kids more control and responsibility over their lives…over their education.  One change that was made that allowed them to figure out who they were, instead of telling them who to be.

I just don’t get it.

And regardless of what the problems are within the system, there is one wild card that is never seems to be mentioned.  The parents.

Maybe this is where I am a bit nostalgic.  Maybe this is where my love of the underdog and the rebel in American history cloud my judgment.  I have seen a single parent who knows how to work the system make a difference.  I have seen a small group of parents who have stayed persistent and used the right words to the right people make a difference.  But most parents stay silent.  One parent once told me that they just kept quiet because they knew it would be over in a year.  As they told their kid, “Just put up with it for a few more months and hopefully it will be better next year.”  It seems the more parents I talk to aren’t concerned with the child’s education being the best…just as long as it’s not the worst…and when it is, just wait it out until next year.

How many parents out there are just always waiting for next year.
How many teachers are just waiting until the current “change” fails, so we can move on to the next?
How many of us are just waiting for superman?

The movie ends with some simple text.  I believe the last line was something like:
“Great schools come from great people.  Great schools come from you.”  Are we great when we simply wait?  Hide? Voice our concerns on blogs and twitter but not at staff meetings or at our own kid’s parent conferences?  Are we great when we only worry about our kids…whether it be our own children or own students?
“What is our obligation to other people’s children?”

Are you waiting for superman?  I am…but after twenty years of teaching, I am finally, slowly, finding out that after all this time, I was actually wearing a tight spandex suit with an “S” on it under my clothes all these years.  I am slowly finding out that I have super powers.   And I am slowly chipping away at my kryptonite, the one thing that has kept me waiting, instead of acting.

Today, take a peak under your shirt.   I bet there is an “S” on your chest too.  But hopefully… you’re not wearing spandex pants 😉

1/25/11 Why did Waiting for Superman not get nominated for an Oscar?

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