March 1995

This Issue
Vol. 06, Issue 06

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"Have you heard of Pierre de Vise?'' Donald Offermann, principal of Oak Park and River Forest High School--long considered one of the nation's most successfully integrated schools in one of the most successfully integrated communities--cheerfully asked me shortly after I had met him at an early morning school assembly. "He said Oak Park would eventually become all black, but he didn't understand our resolve to make diversity work. We refused to become 'ghettoized.' ''
According to a recent news item, 2,000 beginning teachers quit the Los Angeles schools each year. Small wonder. All of the ills of society--unemployment, broken families, teenage pregnancies, youth gangs, and drug abuse--are bound to be reflected in the classroom.
Here's the pitch: Idealistic teacher, fresh out of college, gets first teaching job, preferably at hellish inner-city school. Encounters "difficult'' students and cynical colleagues. Tries teaching methods learned in school, to no avail. On verge of giving up when breakthrough occurs with students. Discovers he or she is a "natural'' teacher after all. Decides to sign up for another year.
The Trenton, N.J., school district is something of a giant funnel: Eighteen elementary schools feed into four middle schools that pour into one monolithic structure on Chambers Street known as Trenton Central High School.
As a teacher and unionist, I have listened to my colleagues for more than 25 years describe their hopes and aspirations for their profession and union. The emerging consensus includes learner-centered schools, shared communitywide accountability, a more genuine teaching profession, and a union that acts as an agent for reform as well as an advocate for doing right by kids.