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Only A Teacher
Teachers Today
Ann Cook
Linda Darling Hammond
Dean Eastman
Aurora Fleming
Terri Grasso
Carolyn Lawrence
Tsianina Lomawaima
Frank McCourt
Lorraine Monroe
Tom Mooney
Brian Sheehy
Gerry Speca
Sandy Warner
Alex White


Interview With Lorraine Monroe
Lorraine Monroe is Director of the School Leadership Academy in New York City.

Q: How would you like to see teacher training change?

I think this is the responsibility of the training institutions, to put... the way they're doing in law school, the way they're doing in med schools: to allow people who come forward and who say, "I want to be a teacher," to get into real schools and a variety of schools because very often they get into these pristine places and they say, "Ah, that's what teaching is about." And then when they hit the reality of so many different schools, whether they're urban, suburban or rural, they're ill-equipped to deal with what it is they need. So, I think training institutions need to re-think how they train, how early they put people into, quote, the trenches, and what is the reality of some of the training? That it has to move beyond book; it has to move beyond theory.

Q: Why do you put such a high value on teacher flexibility?

You have to be a person who's flexible so that you're able to change your methodologies. First you have to know a lot of methodologies. There are lots of occupations you have that if you know one or two ways of coming at it, you're okay. Teaching is not like that. You really almost have to be different for every single class that you encounter, different in the sense of being reflective enough to say, "This isn't working and so I'll change," and have something to change to. It requires high preparation, high planning. No great teacher can ad lib, no great teacher underplans for time. See, the craft of it is to know how to plan and...that the art of it is like an actor: you say, "I've lost the audience, how do, what do I do? What do I do to get them back? How do I change? How do I scrap this plan that's not working and have enough in my quiver to pull out another arrow of wonderfulness?" And I think that that's what makes it difficult.

Q: You've mentioned teachers' need for time off. Talk a little about that.

I don't think when you're really in love with this work that you're ever off. What you do need is not to have your body in front of 150 children six hours and twenty minutes plus. But "off" means that you're off enriching yourself, getting your soul and your body back together. In terms of talking about what teachers do in that, quote, time off: really great teachers are never off, even when they're resting, because the brain is working and you're always open to new ideas and they can come from anywhere. In fact, the best ideas come from things that seem totally unrelated to education.

Q: You advocate creativity in the classroom, but teachers often have to teach to mandated standards. How can they do that?

I've trained young teachers to be crazy and creative and innovative. If there is a standard that says children have to read poetry and react to it, the standard didn't say what poetry. See, so there's room in doing, in getting the kids to know these things with the freedom of the teacher and the creative insanity of the teacher. Here's a standard that says the children have to react to literature or the children need to know this math fact. How can make this joyous and yet get the fact across? So, what is happening in most places is, "Here it is. God, look what they've done to us," as opposed to -- and see there's the creative thing -- to sit down and have these kind of brainstorming, crazy sessions and say, "They want us to have children writing reactions to math problems or solutions to math problems. Now how can we make that fun?" In my program, I say, "What you can't control, you legitimize." So, if children are... and they're going to be if they're preteens and 9 year old boys, they're going to want to move. So let them move through the poetry, let them move through the math facts, let them move through whatever.

Q: As a principal, what was your recipe for bringing out the best in teachers?

Part of treating people well is, number one, to honor that they say something, that they have something to say that's important. Two, that it's important for colleagues to get together to talk and, three, that the administrator cherishes them enough to do nice things for them. Nobody wants to come to work everyday and feel discounted, underrated, not trained, not cherished and to be a failure. And not to teach well is a kind of secret terror, I think, of some people because you are failing at what you get out of bed every morning to do. And there are enough smart people in every building to help everybody to become smart and I think that's the leader's responsibility.

Q: Principals have their jobs. So do teachers. How do you define teachers' work?

In the classroom, that's the teacher's responsibility, to bring everybody forward, make everybody feel, not just feel but know that they're doing better, that they're better than they were before, that they're getting smarter. And once kids think that they're getting smarter and they are getting smarter, then they want success skills on top of that and they produce for you and they produce for themselves.

Q: What qualities and skills do good teachers need?

Teachers need, as qualifications for being good -- let's say good and move into better and superb -- a love of children, because it doesn't matter if you're a scholar and you hate kids, it's not going to work. But that's not the end point because some people love children and then don't teach. A really good teacher needs to know a subject well and have a passion about it, even a kindergarten teacher, I believe. I think a really good teacher should have a sense of humor. It is a job that's quite trying if everything is serious serious, including yourself. And of course, a really great teacher is kind, understands children, remembers his or her own childhood, remembers the pain and never gives pain, never.

Q: Why are schools so important for fostering democracy?

What do you do with all of these different people who have come to get, to capture the American dream? And if it's not reflected in school, where else would it be reflected? School is really the one place where you have a shot to make the American dream happen. And children just love being in a place where that's the culture, it's the culture of being smart, it's the culture of total acceptance of what you bring and who you bring and an acceptance, an understanding of why the school exists.



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