What does ‘quality teacher’ mean anyway?

Sep 12, 2013 by

Harriett Ball

By Mike Rose

Go to YouTube and type in “Harriett Ball.” You’ll find three or four short clips on this wonderful Houston teacher, including a tribute (she died in 2011) from KIPP charter school founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin. It seems that in 1992, when the young Feinberg and Levin—fresh Teach For America recruits—landed in Houston, ready, in Feinberg’s words, “to change the world by lunchtime,” they didn’t have an easy go of it. As Feinberg put it, he lost control of his class by lunchtime and didn’t regain it until Christmas.

Harriett Ball was teaching down the hall, and Feinberg and Levin found her, and had the good sense to latch on to her. Of Levin, Ms. Ball said, “He was hungry.” This short film is a sweet tribute, clearly heart-felt. “She was one of the most remarkable teachers I ever met,” observes Levin. The duo named the charter school they went on to found, the Knowledge Is Power Program, drawing on a line from one of her chants about the power of reading. Today KIPP is the nation’s largest network of charter schools.

This tribute sparks for me so many issues related to contemporary school reform: from the nature of teaching and the many qualities it takes to do it well to the incessant drumbeat of criticism directed at teachers and the institutions that educate them. Harriet Ball is remembered for inspiring Feinberg and Levin to start KIPP, and for the songs and chants she devised to help her students learn the metric system, state capitals, and a lot else. But if you view those clips of Ms. Ball and read what you can find written about her when she died, you get the sense of so much more: of someone with a keen intelligence about children, pedagogical creativity, humor, an in-her-bones understanding of race and social class, a deep commitment to those students in her charge and belief in their ability, and the kind of authority that emerges from all the above. In general, education policy and mainstream reform do not address these qualities. This is an unfortunate irony, given KIPP’s iconic status in school reform circles.

via What does ‘quality teacher’ mean anyway?.

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