Recently, I saw the education documentary Waiting for Superman with my parents. Afterwards, over lunch, my father shook his head. “Watching that makes me think that nothing will ever change,” he said.
“Then do something about it,” I countered, and went through the now clichéd save-education to-do list (write your senator, get involved in the school board, educate yourself, read Whatever It Takes) to no avail. Eventually, I gave up convincing Dad and we moved onto other topics. Still, his despondency nagged at me; I don’t think his reaction is at all unusual.
As a teacher in a charter school that serves a low-income, immigrant community in Chicago, I work with large class sizes, students who are working years below grade level, and teachers who work around the clock to help students succeed. Despite the challenges, I believe that things can and will eventually change. But, people have to get riled up to change it—call it stubborn, foolhardy, or call it a “passion for education.”
The idea of “passion” is one that comes up often. Pretty much every teacher claims to have a “passion for education” and the idea of “passion” for students, or for learning, is thrown around so often that at times it seems to have lost its meaning. So, I was pleased to come across Steven Anderson’s recent blog post in which he argues that passion is a prerequisite for any kind of educational reform and I couldn’t agree more.
In his post, Anderson outlines his definition of passion in education is (I’ll refer you to his blog post for more) and I challenged myself to do the same. So, here are my personal criteria for passion in special education:
Passion is coming to school every day committed to meeting each child where they are, whether that means handling a temper tantrum before you’ve even finished your coffee, figuring out new ways to teach phonics to a child who’s struggled with reading for years, or losing your planning period to help a student.
Passion is advocating for your students’ academic and emotional needs, and not accepting limitations, ignorance, or insensitive comments imposed on or about them by adults.
Passion is building classrooms that are learning environments for all kids, including buying materials after school-provided resources run out, planning lessons that meet their learning needs when there are none in the curriculum, and going off-lesson to teach the skills the kids need right now.
Passion is doing what’s best for your students, even if it means going back to the drawing board and recreating a lesson cycle from the beginning when you realize it’s not working, changing your behavior to meet the needs of a child, and starting with empathy every time you approach a challenging situation.
Passion means not letting yourself, your colleagues, or your students reach the point of apathy, no matter how difficult it is for the students to learn, or you to teach.
Passion is building relationships with individual students, teachers, and parents, and working within those relationships to collaborate, solve problems, and move forward together.
While I’m sure that education in America will get better, I’m also just as sure that nothing will improve without passion to drive it. If you’re an educator, parent, or just a tax-payer or documentary-viewer, what is your passion for education? And, what will you do with it?