I recently was able to re-establish contact with one of the many great teachers I had in my twelve years of Catholic education --Sister Mary Jean, though when I had her she was Sister Mary Aloysius. She's still at it, well into her fifth decade as an educator. She was a great classroom presence, a skilled algebra and geometry teacher, and a dynamic force in our school.
I had many such teachers whose names recur to me almost weekly: Ron Karrenbauer, Sr. Timothy, Fred Hoover, Kathy Nosich. Almost everyone I have ever met who works in words can recollect tremendous classroom teachers from their past.
The inner city has always had its share of enormously gifted and dedicated teachers, and occasionally one of their stories will escape into the public eye, and he or she will be celebrated. But it is tough, hard work, and as the test scores will tell anyone who reads them, we have been losing a battle to educate underclass kids, a battle that America used to routinely win.
Now one of America's finest education reporter/writers --actually, he's just a terrific writer period-- Jay Mathews brings out a book that will lift the spirits of anyone who cares about the mess that is public education in many major metropolitan areas: Work Hard. Be Nice. How Two Inspired Teachers Created The Most Promising Schools In America. This is the story of Michael Feinberg and Dave Levin, two Ivy league graduates who signed up for Teach for America in 1990, failed miserably in their first months in the classroom, and then began a program of bringing to their desperately poor students discipline and enthusiasm, long school days, Saturday and summer school and rewards based on achievement. Nearly two decades later the KIPP --"Knowledge Is Power Program-- charter school effort they began in Houston and the Bronx has spread to 66 schools in 19 states enrolling 14,000 students. It continues to grow --thanks to the crucial support of GAP founders Doris and Don Fisher, their talent scouts Scott Hamilton and Stacey Boyd and enthusiastic school superintendents across the country-- recruiting new teachers, students and parents across the country and opening new schools in welcoming districts. With every new success, KIPP proves again that many hundreds of thousands of kids who are warehoused in failing schools are perfectly capable of achieving in middle school, succeeding in high school, and graduating from college.