“Of course, no matter how innovative our schools or how effective our teachers, America cannot succeed unless our students take responsibility for their own education. That means showing up for school on time, paying attention in class, seeking out extra tutoring if it’s needed, and staying out of trouble. And to any student who’s watching, I say this: don’t even think about dropping out of school. As I said a couple of weeks ago, dropping out is quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country, and it is not an option – not anymore. Not when our high school dropout rate has tripled in the past thirty years. Not when high school dropouts earn about half as much as college graduates. And not when Latino students are dropping out faster than just about anyone else. It is time for all of us, no matter what our backgrounds, to come together and solve this epidemic.”

These remarks were made on March 10, 2009, by President Barack Obama during his speech “Taking On Education”. I especially appreciate these remarks because they more accurately portray a realistic plan for a resolution to some of the challenges that  face students in urban schools.

Although I am certain that this is not a unique perspective, prior to the speech I had never heard it verbalized so clearly. This was the first time that I had heard someone speak about the active role that students have in their own education. In the past, the responsibility for educating students was placed squarely on the shoulders of teachers. If the student did well, the teacher merely did their job. If the student failed, the teacher failed to do their job.

This view challenges the outdated passive role of students as learners. Students are not empty vessles that teachers pour knowledge into. Students are unique, thinking, feeling individuals who come to us with a variety of skill levels and needs. As such, they do have a responsibility to themselves and their education.  They do have to show up, they do have to pay attention, they do have to ask questions, and they do have seek help when they don’t understand if they are to take an active role in their education.

This is not about blame. This is about the cooperative responsibility that students and teachers must share if teachers are to be successful as educators and students are to be successful as learners. We all have a part to play in the resolution of some of the unique challenges that face both student and teachers each day in the classroom. We must work in concert to ensure that teachers are providing students with the skills that they need and that students receive the necessary tools that will allow them to become thinking, productive citizens of the world.

To read the speech in its entirety go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/09/03/10/Taking-On-Education/

As a Elementary Education student, part of my training requires me to have field experiences in several school systems so that I have a well rounded view of what is happening in classrooms throughout the community. Of my two field experiences, the second experience has had the most profound effect on me to date. That is because of the challenging circumstances surrounding my host teacher.

Once a week, for seven weeks, I experienced what is was like to teach in a struggling inner-city school. I say struggling because most of the students performed below the state average on most standardized tests and the teacher was struggling to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The most accurate way that I can describe what I witnessed during my weekly visits to the school is to say that my host teacher taught “in spite of”. She taught in spite of numerous interruptions by students, who engaged in conversations that had nothing to do with the lesson being taught. She taught in spite of some students who answered questions with answers that had nothing to do with with the subject at hand. She taught in spite of some students engaged on their cell phones. She taught in spite of some students who randomly called out during the lesson. She taught in spite of some students who failed to cooperate with her requests. She taught in spite of the lack of support from the administration when she followed protocol for disciplinary action.

At times the frustration showed on her face but never in her voice. Never in her mannerisms. Never in her behavior toward the students. She knew that the tangents and negative behaviors were cries for attention or their way of saying that the did not understand so she was always respectful and caring in her response to them.

Although students tested her commitment to them by their sometimes disrptive behavior, she always passed with flying colors by keeping their well-being and learning as the focus. It is my hope that I will be as committed to my students as she was to hers and that my focus will always be on their well-being and their success no matter what challenges may confront me.