Marilyn Anderson Rhames, a science teacher at a charter school in Chicago, Il, shares extraordinary insight in her blog about how teachers oftentimes view their schools and the children whom they teach.

“I stumbled in onto life-changing conversation in the teacher’s lounge. The chatter was animated. A few teachers were reminiscing about their classroom horror stories at other schools: John dashed out of the classroom … Sarah threatened to jump out the window, again … Angel knocked over bookshelves in a fit of rage …. And in my desire to fit in and one-up the last tale, I began to share about the unbelievable dysfunction at my old school. Even though I hadn’t yet earned my teaching certificate, I felt like I had earned some stripes. I was persevering to educate the youth despite the insanity within the urban public school system. I was the heroine of the story, fearless and unafraid.

‘It happened to them,’ were the four words that shut me and the other teachers up. ‘It happened to them, not to you. You tell the stories like it’s some kind of entertainment, but it happened to them—the kids. They are the ones who 30 years from now will remember these stories with tears in their eyes.’

It was the middle school social studies teacher. He was a demur white man in his late 30s who often wore cardigans like Mr. Rogers. Until then he had kept silent, even as each story gave rise to a higher level of ridiculousness. He went on to explain that he, too, used to complain and feel like the victim until another teacher rebuked him with those words. He felt compelled to pass that wisdom on.”

This truth has haunted me for the past eight years I’ve been teaching. I am only glad that I got set straight early in my teaching career. Some teachers never seem to get it. You know this when their debates about education reform are centered around teacher rights, and not student rights. Teachers’ needs are important—I have a mortgage; I have a family; I would like to retire one day—but they are not the core issue. The mission is bigger than us. Educators and policymakers must boil the chatter down to two essential questions: To what degree will this policy enhance student learning and how will we know?

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