Only a Teacher - classroom
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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 Ann Cook
Ann Cook is Co-Director of New York City's Urban Academy. Academy.

Q: What are some of the principal goals of Urban Academy?

This school, first and foremost, tries to reach out to kids and make it an interesting place for kids to learn. We try to hear what kids have to say, we try to organize the curriculum in ways that we think will appeal to students, at the same time challenge them. We try to make this school a very rigorous academic institution, but we also try to provide a lot of safety nets. We accept and acknowledge the fact that a lot of our students come to us with rather poor work habits, or they haven't been in situations where they've been challenged, so they don't know how to organize their time. And what we try to do is to give students a structure and support system that makes the demands reasonable.

Q: The Julia Richmond Complex houses Urban Academy and several other schools as well. Together the schools also provide a number of services for all the students in the building. Can you tell us a bit about that?

This building is really a multiservice complex and we have four high schools. We also have an infant toddler center, which is an infant/toddler center run by the Board of Education under what's called the Life Program -- we call it First Steps -- and it's for children from two months old to three years old, and these are the babies of teens that attend one of the schools in this building. So, the idea is that these students will bring their babies to school, they will be in school, and their children will be getting quality day care. And the parents are also involved in a parenting program that goes on after school. So that's a real support for a number of students who probably wouldn't be in school if they didn't have that kind of a facility available. We also have a student health clinic. So we've been able to have small schools, and the best of small, but also the advantages of having students attend a school in a large facility that has a lot of different kinds of offerings. So, we have a library that's available to all the students; we have a pottery room; we have a dance studio; we have a culinary arts room; and we have some basic support in the building also for students who need social work services and that kind of thing. So it's a combination of academic, extracurricular and social support that we try to create in this in this building.

Q: What's wrong with how we train teachers and what we expect from them when they enter the classroom?

Schools as institutions are not places that empower people. I think administrations, bureaucracies have a way of not, they're not very good at saying to teachers or to people, "Tell us what you want to do? Tell us how you're going to do it, and tell us how you're going to know if it works." Teachers are not that educated on how to be collaborative. If you think about your own education or you think about your training, it tends to be one on one. You never, very seldom, in a training set-up, would you be expected to figure out problems, problem solve, with your colleagues, which is another reason why I believe school-based teacher education in a setting where you have a collaborative environment is a very important piece of school-based teacher education, because you do need to teach people how to work together, and how to be collaborative. That's a skill. How to reach consensus by talking, how to make decisions by consensus-building, is a skill. And how to have discussions with people that are respectful. That's a skill. And I think also that there are times when you have a political climate that is oppressive, or repressive, and so people get, people just want to bury their heads, and go on and do their job, and don't want to take on something that they think might get them into trouble. And I think that, there are a lot of things like that, and I don't think that most people, not just teachers, but most people out in the society are not mavericks, they're not visionaries, they're not out to make a fight, they want to live their life and not have a lot of hassle, and I don't think teachers are that different in that respect, in addition to all the other things that I mentioned. So I think what it comes down to is teachers then become quite passive in some ways, about their situation, because to change it, is, requires such a tremendous effort, and takes you away from what you're supposed to be there to do.

Q: What's wrong with the way we Americans define academic success? How does a school's size affect our evaluation of student achievement?

I think what you have to look at is not only whether students can score well on a reading test, but whether they do read. Do they use that skill? Is it something that they enjoy? Would they go and get a book in their spare time? Now, if you have students who start off and who aren't reading, what happened to them, when they graduate has that shifted, has that changed? Has the school done anything to get kids more interested in reading? For example, if kids came in, if when kids came in they were going to school every day, and when they graduate they're still going to school every day, it's not, you can't say that the school can claim responsibility for that. On the other hand, if a school takes students who were not going to school every day, who were cutting school, who were school-phobic, and when they graduate, they graduate because they started going to school everyday and they started really paying attention to what was there, and doing some work, that's the school, the school can claim responsibility for that. So somehow, we have to get past this notion that, we're going to look at the students who graduated and say, well the school was good, or it wasn't good. We have to look at where the students started from in that school, and where did they end up at the end of the term in that school. That's what I mean by value added. And I think we need to do that, because otherwise we don't really know, what the school's responsibility, what the school can claim ownership for. We don't have an imaginative enough way of looking at schools and thinking about what it is we think they're doing or not doing. We tend to be in this country, and in other countries too, very test driven. Very oriented towards looking at test scores, and I think we really need to look much more at this kind of movement over time, where kids started to where kids ended up at the end. And I don't think big schools are very good at that. They're not very good at being able to look at individual students. It's hard to have, to look at student work in a big school because there's so many kids. Just the sheer numbers make it very tough. I think the bigger you get, the more individuals in a building are there to patrol, to control, to do discipline, to monitor, to do things that don't have anything to do with teaching and learning.

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Ann Cook