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The new film "Waiting for Superman" is showing in St. Louis and throughout the nation. The movie is a poignant and dramatized story of the plight of American education. While the film focuses upon charter schools, their admissionsí policies and the large number of students who did not get accepted into the lottery, the movie makes it clear that so many of these children had no other good school choices. If not chosen, they were relegated to very inadequate schools. So often these inferior schools, mostly in big cities, do not have good teachers, making it even more difficult for the children in these schools to successfully prepare for their futures.
The most important outcome from this movie is that people across the country are talking about education and schooling and focusing on what must be done so that we no longer leave behind those students unable to find alternatives. This is certainly true in St. Louis as well. In addition sadly we acknowledge that teaching is not looked upon as an honored profession making it difficult to attract the best and the brightest.
"Waiting for Superman" may have put too much faith in charter schools as the only answer as the issues brought up are on point for the future of all school systems and need to be addressed by us now. Let me point out several of those issues. We can look at the St. Louis region for our own answers.
First, let us acknowledge there is no silver bullet or quick fix towards higher achievement but rather an ongoing effort comparable to preparing to put women and men on the moon or discovering the cure for polio. We must to improve the graduation rates of students and then their persistence to post graduate opportunities. We should commit to all children making progress each year, no matter how tiny the results.
Second, we need more teachers prepared to teach in urban environments. These teachers should first do their student teaching in such environments, have mentors that work with them on a continuing basis, take courses that focus upon the lives of urban children who to understand the obstacles they encounter, and lastly be willing to commit to teaching in city environments.
Third, those undergraduates going into teaching would benefit from a stint in community service so that each student understands what it takes to give to others.
I believe there is a reason that Waiting for Superman is making such a stir in this country. It is telling us our education system, for all the good things that they do, needs big time major fixing and now is the time to begin the necessary changes.
Many schools in our region are doing just that. But perhaps everyone in each school system does not think that she or he is accountable or responsible for change and better results. But the answer is we all are. There should be enough good schools for every child. If not, then why not? A totally ineffective school should not be allowed to continue to exist. How can we allow any longer ineffective schools, teachers who should be retiring, students not progressing? The answer is we cannot. If those who teach do not leave each day feeling that they have met their studentsí needs in some way, they do not belong in the classroom. Teaching, in my mind, is the hardest of professions and it is time we in St. Louis recognize this and adequately reward the teaching profession. Then and only then will we truly move ahead.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Susan Uchitelle is a consultant for the Voluntary Interdistrict Coordinating Council.