How much impact does an individual teacher make on a child’s future?
This question keeps a lot of education researchers, policy wonks and teachers union representatives employed, but certainly the analysis stops at the classroom door of any parent’s child.
Parents with means and privilege will move mountains (or at least their residence) to make sure their children attend the best schools possible.
Parents born into a different reality, like Carlet Harris, a Washington, D.C., mother and friend, whom I’ve had the opportunity to interview several times over the last few years, wonders why parents in lower-income communities are treated like second-class citizens by our public education system—which sometimes seems determined to keep certain children trapped in schools with less effective teachers.
Carlet told me about the “sleeping teacher” at a neighborhood school, who was employed when her older sister was a student there, remained when Carlet attended the school, and was still in place by the time her own child was school-age. “He slept, and he slept, and he’s still sleeping.”
As Carlet puts it, “I don’t wish anyone to get fired, but if you’re not doing your job, then you should let that new person come in who’s eager to do it…instead of them getting laid off and you’re still in the classroom.”
Carlet’s eldest son, Armonta’e, told me that at his neighborhood elementary school, “all you had to do was go in there, watch TV, do a little math and go home,” he said. He even had a teacher who gave the students worksheets while she herself watched TV.
“I didn’t like it,” Armonta’e said, “She taught me nothing at all.”
Armonta’e had to repeat the first grade because he was so far behind, but fortunately, Carlet found a charter school for him that was, as she describes it, in the “teaching zone.” He thrived at his new public school of choice.
When it comes to teaching, “You have to love what you do, you have to have a passion for children and teaching,” Carlet says. “If the teachers don’t care, why should the children?”
As an Education Post poll recently showed, public school parents believe the ultimate responsibility for a student’s success falls on the parent or the student him or herself. But how far can any student go if he or she doesn’t have access to the “teaching zone”?
Watch our interview with Carlet above, and stay tuned for the new TEACHED short film Think of Calvin, which features Carlet, her long-term partner Calvin and their two sons.