The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.
— William Arthur Ward
I recently had the privilege and honor to serve on a panel of local leaders who were given the task of observing eight separate teachers within the Dougherty County School System for selection of the DCSS Teacher of the Year. I must say, after visiting each of the schools and observing not only the teachers, but the staffs and students as well, I was impressed and my expectations were exceeded. In the process I learned two valuable lessons.
- Pursue reality firsthand to validate or invalidate your perceptions.
- Educational expectations for our students should remain high no matter where we are.
In the first case, my observation of the school system was driven largely by secondhand information and not personal experience. Most of this information was derived from media, various research sites on the internet and individual testimony. Being in the military and moving frequently, this is the information we need to rely upon as we try to make the best choices for our families in terms of neighborhoods to live in and schools to send our children to. One poor decision during relocation to a new duty station could mean the derailment of our children’s education and progress when moving every 2-3 years is hard enough.
That being said, the current situation within the DCSS school system does not match that research. Having spent a week visiting several different schools and attending several classes in surprise visits has given me a much clearer vision. I observed teachers engaging students at all levels, and in creative ways, that tickled the imagination and creativity of all; inspiring students to achieve. From stories, dramas and songs, to games, competitions and dances, my first hand observations of the teachers, staffs and administrators invalidated my negative perceptions and replaced them with the reality of hard working professionals who are diligently striving to forge a better future for our children.
In the second case, it is clear, regardless of the poverty rate, crime rate, and whatever other “rate” you can come up with, high expectations create superior performance, driving students to achieve more than their circumstances may dictate. Once again my expectations of what I was going to see upon observing the DCSS was flawed. I had already determined in my mind that these students had too many challenges outside of the classroom to be challenged inside. How wrong I was.
I saw teachers expecting students to know the answers, to think creatively and to act upon that knowledge. I saw elementary school teachers, who expected 25 6-year-olds to behave and interact independently in four separate groups, simultaneously. I saw middle school teachers who expected their students to stand up, repeat the question and then answer the question in complete sentences. I saw high school teachers who challenged their students to think critically about third and fourth order effects to life decisions. All around, I saw true professionals who were immersed with their students in the learning process and setting high expectations. As Goethe once said, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of becoming.” This is exactly what I witnessed.
To all of these professionals, I apologize for my perceptions and expectations. You have opened my eyes because you have shared the light from the lamp of learning. To observe you as you really are versus the way I thought you to be has been an education in and of itself. I thank you for dedicating yourselves to the future of our community and country. Your humble and selfless service is recognized and, just as Ward stated, “inspiring” to all of us who have observed your service firsthand. I ask that you continue to keep your eyes focused on the goal, your ears deaf to the naysayers and your will steeled for the cause to which you serve.
As a member of this community, I dedicate myself to the support of our teachers, staffs and students. I thank those who already support these dauntless efforts and challenge those who are simply observing or perhaps even those who are merely critics to step down from the stands and into the arena to join the fight for our future. We are one Country and one Community, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
Col. Donald J. Davis is commanding officer of Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany.