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October 5, 2010

When the Lights Come Up on Waiting for Superman, Here's What Teachers Need

Dan Brown

SEED, a tuition-free college-prep, five-day-a-week boarding school, located in Southeast D.C., is an outstanding example of what charter schools are meant for; it's an innovative alternative to a traditional public school and a place for responsibly experimenting with new models of wrap-around services. It currently serves around 325 students in Washington, D.C. and there's a new SEED School in Baltimore that is several years away from growing to its full scale.

I love my job teaching English at SEED, and I receive the space and support to excel at it. So what makes it work? Many of the most important parts are replicable en masse in the public system:

Teachers are accountable without feeling terrorized.
My principal, assistant principal, and instructional coach observe my class, both formally and informally, multiple times throughout the year. They read my lesson plans every week. They monitor trends on my interim assessment data. They talk to my students and my students' families. They are engaging, highly competent people with high expectations and backgrounds in the classroom. No SEED teacher ever feels that there is one test or one data point that could potentially destroy our careers.

Teachers feel ownership over our teaching.
If I can justify what the standards-based educational value of what I'm planning, my principal trusts me to do it. No scripted lesson plans. Order class sets of contemporary novels for literature units? Done. Help me set up partnerships with external organizations? Done with enthusiasm. (Through the PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools program, visiting authors come to my classes. Through the Shakespeare Theatre Company, my students study and perform a Shakespeare play under the tutelage of pros.) The opportunity to conceive and then actually follow through on bringing exciting ideas to life energizes me throughout the long haul of the school year.

The school helps us to become better teachers each year.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at October 5, 2010 5:32 AM
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