Effective Teaching...

by Harry and Rosemary Wong

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This article was printed from Teachers.Net Gazette,
located at https://teachers.net.

October 2009

Inner City Is Not an Excuse

Success Is Not an Address

The achievement did not make the headlines in the local newspaper; there wasn’t a mention on the evening news; and nary a tweet was twittered.

This past school year all of Marco Campos’ students
passed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test in Math.

Every.  Single.  One.

MarcosSo, what makes this newsworthy?  Marco Campos teaches in what some people refer to as an inner city school attended by low-income, minority students.  The general assumption for the inner city label is, it is in the central part of the major city and its residents have high levels of poverty, are exposed to violence, and witness drug trafficking.

Some teachers blame their classroom problems on the fact that their school is in the inner city, or that their students come from a certain neighborhood.

Can you imagine a doctor who complains about patient demographics, or a Peace Corp volunteer who complains about the culture of the people he has been sent to serve?

Marco Campos looks beyond the physical address of a child and sees his students as seeds of potential greatness.  Every.  Single.  One.

Inner City Is Not an Excuse

In many major cities such as Chicago, Manhattan in New York City, San Francisco, Paris, London, Berlin, Istanbul, Stockholm, Hong Kong, Sydney, Toronto, and Montreal, the most affluent residents reside in expensive homes in an established, inner city neighborhood.  Less affluent residents reside in suburban areas.  Poverty and crime are, to a greater degree, associated with the distant suburbs.  The recent riots in France took place in the suburbs, yet media coverage would have one believe the students were marching on the streets of Paris.

Address is not a factor in student achievement.  The research of Theodore Hershberg at the University of Pennsylvania found

Good instruction is 15 to 20 times more powerful than
family background, income, race, gender,
or any other explanatory variable.

It is how the teacher instructs that impacts student learning and achievement.  The assorted variables some teachers like to point to for students not learning or achieving are merely excuses.  These excuses are what we call the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” 

Once and for all, please, let’s stop using the demographics or culture
of our students as an excuse for the lack of
student learning and achievement. 

Marco’s Journey

Marco started teaching nine years ago via an Alternative Certification Program.  He was full of passion, but lacked the essential tools to start his new career.  Thrust into a classroom with no instructions, he was terrified. 

Marco says, “I had no experience at all, and did not know what to do.  Fortunately, my school district gave me a copy of The First Days of School.  I devoured the book that weekend!

“I learned how to be prepared for my students and to manage a classroom with procedures and routines.  More importantly, the knowledge I gleaned from this book gave me the confidence I needed to teach and grow to be an effective teacher. 

“I can honestly say, ‘Reading that book and implementing the concepts saved my career!’”

A Culture of Collaboration

Fortunately for Marco, there was another very important factor in his favor when he started teaching—his school.  Marco teaches bilingual third graders at Blanche Kelso Bruce Elementary Music Magnet School in Houston, Texas.  The school serves a predominantly lower socioeconomic area, with 99% of students qualifying for a free or reduced priced lunch and 85% of students living in government housing.  Forty-two percent of the students are considered “at-risk.”

What makes Bruce Elementary School such an opportune place to be?  The school has an effective school culture. 

Marco shares, “There is collaboration all over the place!  We have 

Click here to see a copy of Bruce Elementary School’s Weekly Bulletin and Good Idea section.

The culture at Bruce Elementary is one of teacher and student success.  Everyone is working together with one goal in mind—student achievement.

Project Aspire

Recently, Marco was asked to participate in the Houston Independent School District’s Highly Effective Teacher Study, also known as Project Aspire.  Teachers in grades three to eight, who had facilitated the highest levels of student academic growth from 2006 – 2008, were asked to share and discuss their teaching methods. 

Marco’s first reaction was, “Wow!  What do I tell them?” 

At the meeting, Marco told himself, “These are the ‘real experts,’ I had better listen carefully!”  But he soon realized he had one thing in common with these ‘real experts’: 

All of them are motivators. 
All of them understand the importance of
building solid relationships with their students.

The teachers had numerous discussions and shared techniques.  They agreed on the importance of teaching practices as diverse as metacognition, multi-sensory teaching, role play, and small group instruction.  Yet, by the end of the meeting, the discussions had boiled down to one simple takeaway: 

The most important ingredients for teaching success are
motivation, perseverance, compassion,

Marco says, “I was not surprised.  It was implementing the suggestions in The First Days of School, after all, that made my participation at the meeting possible.”

Beg, Borrow, and Steal for Success

Marco is constantly on the lookout for new procedures that he can implement in his classroom.  When he hears teachers mention that something they’re doing is working in their classrooms, he drops everything and asks them for information.  Without exception, he has found that effective teachers are always eager to share good ideas.

Once Marco learns a procedure, he adapts it for his classroom and students, and implements it.  Then, besides keeping his eyes and ears open—observing and monitoring—he asks his students for feedback.  If students like the new procedure, and Marco finds that it helps him do more in his classroom, then the class will keep using the procedure. 

Marco says, “Here at Bruce Elementary, we’re lucky to have young, enthusiastic, and charismatic teachers that are eager to share new procedures and ideas. 

“Another wonderful source of procedures is my son.  He is always telling me what he likes about school, his teachers, and his classes.  It is easy for me to ask questions and get his input.”

Introducing Classroom Procedures to Students

Marco spends several days at the start of school showing and modeling his classroom procedures.  He engages his students by using funny, real life examples and demonstrations of how things need to be done. 

One place he looks to for inspiration is TV.  Marco says, “I was watching Sesame Street with my son.  In one scene, Elmo was telling Dr. Noodle how to use a banana.  (Click here to see the video clip that inspired Marco.)  It was funny, and my son and I laughed a lot.  This gave me a good idea of how to introduce procedures to my students. 

“My goal is for my students to understand that classroom procedures are for their benefit, and that if they follow these procedures, school will be less confusing,” says Marco.

Marco’s most effective procedure is his Homework Conduct Control Sheet.  A weekly task list is given to students to work on with their parents or an adult at home.  Each day, the adults work with his students on Reading, Spanish, Math, and English.  The adult must sign the document daily. 

This document helps maintain home involvement, allows the teacher to give daily feedback on the student’s classroom conduct, and serves as a tool for adults to communicate with the teacher.  The Homework Conduct Control Sheet reinforces what was taught in school and is an effective form of home learning.  Click here to see Marco’s Homework Conduct Control Sheet. 

A Bump in the Road

Five years ago, Marco was diagnosed with lymphoma, a blood related cancer.  Unbelievably, he managed to teach that school year while receiving treatment.  His students were his greatest motivation to work hard, keep fighting, and keep positive expectations.  His students knew the procedures and routines of the classroom, and that helped a lot during those difficult months. 

Marco did not have to expend energy each day with the minutia of running a classroom—his students already knew what to do.  Marco could just teach.  And teach he did.  That year, all of his students passed both Reading and Math TAKS.  His students’ success was just what the doctor ordered to put Marco on the road to remission.

An entry from Marco Campos’ notes while working with Project Aspire reads:

To be an effective teacher,
you must make a conscious decision to be positive
and to set high expectations—for both your students and yourself.

Marco has walked the talked in his personal life and his professional life.

Never Give Up

Marco Campos is an inner city school teacher and his students are successful.  Elmo Sanchez featured in our August 2007 column is an inner city teacher and his students are successful.  Alex Kajitani featured in our December 2007 column teaches in one of the poorest performing school districts in all of California, yet his students are successful.

These teachers and countless others in the trenches do not use a student’s environment, heritage, or any categorical label as a rationale for poor performance.  These teachers do what all effective teachers do:

Students of these effective inner city teachers fill the pages when researched on the Internet.  These seeds of potential greatness include politicians, film icons, song writers, doctors, lawyers, novelists, comedians, magicians, war heroes, and scientists.  Some are household names like Jennifer Lopez and Colin Powell; others are rather obscure like Rosalyn Sussman Yalow.  Yet all occupied a desk in a setting that most would describe as bleak and hopeless and went on to leave their stamp on the world.

We often hear the quote, “A teacher affects eternity.  He can never tell, where his influence stops.”  Such is the case of Rosalyn Sussman Yalow.  Dr. Yalow is a product of the schools in Bronx, New York, and went on to become a medical physicist.  In 1977, she received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for developing a tracing technique for measuring quantities of various substances in the blood.  This technique is used today in the detection and the treatment of cancers.

Although we can’t say with certainty, perhaps in some small way, Rosalyn Yalow played a part in Marco Campos’ successful battle with cancer.  But, we know for sure, Marco Campos will always believe that all of his students are capable of greatness.  Every.  Single.  One.



Harry & Rosemary Wong products: http://EffectiveTeaching.com

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