A few highlights from my personal favorite of Learning Forward’s keynote addresses.
Michele Norris, the familiar and soothing voice of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, spoke at lunch on Tuesday. Formerly a print and T.V. education reporter for over a decade, Norris lamented that education is no longer part of the core news coverage. “Some newspapers are peeling away the education beat altogether,” she said. And these days, she said, education coverage is almost all negative, pointing to failing schools and teacher layoffs.
There are so many “amazing stories” about individual teachers changing lives that are not being shared outside of local communities, she said. “People need to know that education is not just about unions and test scores....It’s about people who get up every morning, committed to children.” She spoke of a teacher who worried her students did not have enough male role models, and began cooking lunches to entice working men in the community to spend some time with her class. This eventually morphed into a weekly program, where parents did the cooking and area professionals came in to work with students.
At the risk of wagging a finger, Norris offered this insight: “I so rarely hear from educators who are pitching their own stories....So many of us that work in media are willing to share your stories.”
(As a fellow member of the media, I can attest to that truth. Some of the best teachers I’ve seen are also the most humble. And while we do get many stories pitched, they’re not often from classroom teachers extolling their own successes.)
Norris also said she grew up with a speech impediment (hard to believe!), and that the fact that she now communicates for a living “is a testament to the teachers” in her life.
And in an anecdote that I’ve thought of many times since the keynote, Norris told of a recent encounter that reminded her how powerful a great teacher’s lessons can be. At a recent book signing, a teacher overheard Norris tell someone, “I have to get up early to catch a flight.” The teacher said, “Replace that word ‘have’ with ‘get.’” Norris gave a placating nodded and smiled, but the teacher was insistent that she try it--aloud and with several sentences. Eventually, Norris arrived at, “I have to go to work...I get to go to work.”
I’ve been practicing myself over the last few days. It’s a lesson in optimism that keeps on giving.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.