Your relationship with truth impacts the quality of your decisions.
Education must always be principally concerned with truth: the pursuit of it and the strengthening of it. We must seek to evoke the naturally sustaining quality of inquiry in each student and model it within our own lives. Socrates said that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living,’ and as educators we must take in this truth in regards to our practice and our pupils. As we engage in the truth about how our students are doing on classwork and tests and then dispense that truth with a concomitant support for improvement, we increase the quality of life and decisions of one another. Life-changing instruction must be braided with life-sustaining truth.
Quality teaching springs forth when the educator understands how the failure of each student impacts his/her own life.
If one child were to fail in my class, what would it mean to me? How would it impact me? These are the questions that teachers must grapple with and ultimately come to grim conclusions about in order to imbue their work with passionate purpose. Teaching is an emotional exercise and oftentimes we internalize the failure of students to the point where our self-efficacy is blunted. We think about what will happen to my time if I stay after-school with every student who doesn’t get a concept? What will happen to my peace of mind if I have to keep this unruly student in my classroom all year? What will happen to my life outside of work if I spend high amounts of energy in planning and grading? What will happen to me if I stretch further than I already do to reach children I am not sure I can teach well? Dr. King, in a famous sermon, reversed the question as in the case of the Good Samaritan, who helped a stranger on the side of the road: “What will happen to him if I don’t help him.” That must be the cry that bursts into rivers of life in our instruction for students – what will happen to him/her if I don’t teach them well?
Increasing self-efficacy in the educator will spell the end of the achievement gap.
Teachers don’t go into the classroom to fail. They don’t go in to not teach every child well. But, sometimes it happens. Sometimes children fail to meet expectations. If that happens enough over time, teachers may begin to normalize this rate of failure within their students. What is berthed out of this normalization is an alternative and pernicious belief that the teacher cannot reach the children who normally fail. That sense of self-efficacy is lost. When that same teacher can encounter efficacious professional development that increases their self-efficacy, they are empowered to try again to reach the unreachable; to love the unlovable; to serve the unservable; to solve the unsolvable. The power to close the gap in achievement for children who traditionally underperform starts when the teacher, as a result of effective professional development and experience, says to himself – ‘yes I can.’
Seeds of frustration sown with faith eventually yield products of resilience.
When I began as a first year teacher, there was a young man whose name was Solomon. Solomon was a student who smiled at the ladies and grimaced at the teachers. I was going to change him. Or so I thought. Day after day, I would seek him out and say hi to him. I would try to take him in the room when trouble was brewing and put my neck out for him when he didn’t avoid trouble. I even went so far as to take him and his friend out for an afternoon of lunch. In this lunch I shared with him my hopes and dreams for his life and how he had the potential to change the world. After our lunch was over and we avoided a fight between him and a stranger in public, I told him “Either you are going to be a roaring success or a beautiful disaster, there is no in-between with you.” We lost contact. Years later, as I was walking into a church for a concert, a shadowy figure came to me as an usher. It was Solomon. We hugged for what seemed like an hour, although only a few seconds and he said – “I’ve been looking for you for three years – I remember what you told me that afternoon about my potential and I have turned my life around and am going to graduate from high school.” A picture of his smiling face in a cap and gown remains on my phone.
In the pursuit of realizing God’s greatness for your life, your circle of close supporters will be, necessarily, small.
The concept of ‘haters’ is funny, until you actually encounter some. This idea of being and becoming great comes with a burden that people will misunderstand you and your intentions. They will mistake your confidence for arrogance, your passion for rudeness and your urgency for brashness. In this year I have learned that those people have no place in your inner-circle if you are going to realize all that God has for your life. When you strive and press and reach, you sometimes will pull away from people who aren’t doing the same. This is life. Frederick Douglass said that ‘Without struggle, there is no progress,’ and the loss of friends and acquaintances sometimes comes with this quest for excellence. I have learned to embrace it and to understand why the experiences from prior relationships and unwelcome feedback and feelings all have their place upon the road to greatness. I am now grateful to have experienced people pain and have nothing but love in my heart for anyone who has wished ill upon my upward progress. My circle of supporters is necessarily small, because it is all I have ever needed; they are my 10 pounds – the combined weight of the heart and brain of a human being.
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
Heritage, love, need and opportunity coalesced to push Mr. Parker to become a teacher. Growing up as an African American male, he often felt separated from his peers, and this led him to search for allies where he found, through pages of his history, inspiration from African American males who used intelligence and candor and wit and the power of the spoken word through teaching to change the world.
Joshua Parker is a graduate of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland – he holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Sports Communication, a minor in English from Towson University, and a Master of Arts degree in Leadership in Teaching. He is zealous when it comes to teaching to prepare world-class students, and he has proven his abilities while serving as English/Reading/World Language Department Chair at Windsor Mill Middle School, as well as an English Language Arts teacher at both New Town High and Dundalk Middle Schools. Having an uncommon drive to see students succeed, Mr. Parker states that he believes in their potential and works tirelessly to not only open, but to also fill their minds with instructional tools for learning.
Joshua Parker's exceptional tutelage, leadership, and enthusiasm to shape the future goes beyond the classroom – he has organized a middle school all-male reading club; directed a top-ten finishing Black Saga Team; coached a boys’ junior varsity basketball team; coordinated a summer program directed at engaging local youth; and implemented a comprehensive after-school program at two middle schools.