‘They knew I had a future … ‘

Education Secretary Arne Duncan mentored Lawanda Crayton 25 years ago.

Twenty-five years ago, Arne Duncan was an “I Have a Dream” Foundation mentor at a Chicago elementary school. The outgoing education secretary reunited with Lawanda Crayton, when she was interviewed for NPR’s StoryCorps interview project.

The foundation helps low-income children with “tutoring in early elementary school all the way through help with college tuition,”  reports NPR.

Crayton’s  mother was “an abusive alcoholic,” she told Duncan in the intrerview. “I remember being put in the hospital, I had a broken bone in my leg, had cuts on my face — all from my mother.”

I was a very angry young woman . . . But you and I had a very dynamic relationship, because I spent a number of days being tutored by you in math, and it became one of my favorite subjects.

Crayton was motivated by the program’s rewards. “And for us it was like, hey, if we do well on this test we can go on a trip … anything that was going to get us out of the war zone that we were in. I wanted as much homework as I could get in order not to go home.”

Every year I embraced everybody a little bit more and I accepted that they wanted to be a part of my life. They knew I had a future, I had a life, and I had a purpose, because I never thought that I had that, and it took these blessings to put that in my life. If I didn’t have that support, I wouldn’t be here.

The foundation paid for Crayton to attend a Catholic school, then go on to college.

She had no family at her college graduation. But she’d called Duncan. “You were there. You came. You were just as proud of me as I was of myself.”

Crayton now works in information technology as a project manager and mentors children.

Becoming a teacher and a mentor

Schools need male Hispanic teachers to serve as role models, Jose Garza’s mentor told him more than 15 years ago. A charter school teacher, Garza is now a mentor to new teachers at Partnership to Uplift Communities Schools (PUC) in Los Angeles.

Learning from Mrs. G

As a night student at Howard University, Thomas Sowell was inspired by Marie Gladsden, his English professor, and kept in touch over the years. Years later, when he returned to Howard to teach economics for a year, he was still learning from Mrs. G.

A young African woman who’d studied under Mrs. Gadsden in Guinea failed the first two weekly econ tests. It seemed hopeless he told his mentor.

“So you think she’s going to fail the course?” Mrs. G asked.

“Well, she’s not going to learn the material. Whether I can bring myself to give her an F is something else. That’s really hitting somebody who’s down.”

“You’re thinking of passing her, even if she does not do passing work?” Mrs. G said sharply. She reminded me that I had long criticized paternalistic white teachers who passed black students who should have been failed — and she let me have it. “I’m ashamed of you, Tom. You know better!”

He met with the student  for an hour before every class. Eventually, she caught on and began doing B work.  Averaging in her early F’s, she earned a C for the course.

She was overjoyed, Mrs. Gadsden told him. “She was proud because she knew she earned every bit of it.”

Dr. Marie D. Gladsden died recently at the age of 92.


Mentoring a newbie

In the spring, a young ESL teacher asked NYC Educator for help with her out-of-control classroom. He observed her class.

Five minutes in, a group of kids from one country walked in like they owned the place. She sent them out and made them get a pass. The kids were delighted. More time to walk the halls. More time to hang with their buds. I told the teacher not to do that anymore. I told her to call the homes of every one of those kids any time they arrived late, and to begin that very day.

I also noticed that one kid was the ringleader of this little group. I told the young teacher to move this kid’s seat away from the group. There was a group of kids from another country who spoke a different language, so I told her to move the kid there, into another country for all intents and purposes. “But she doesn’t speak that language,” the young teacher objected.

One of the things you learn when you teach ESL is that you often need to separate kids who speak the same language. Why would kids from China speak English if they could just hang around with other kids from China all the time? Things like that may not occur to teachers who don’t have experience. And despite having been there for months, no one had bothered to tell this young woman anything of the sort.

The young teacher took his advice and her classes began running smoothly. Then she was “excessed.”

Last week, the teacher went for a job interview.

She was asked what she would do if faced with kids from multiple language groups, and how she would deal with keeping them focused and on task.  She had a ready answer for them — an anecdote of just how she dealt with a similar situation.

She got the job.

Teachers helping (or firing) teachers

Peer review — teachers working with struggling colleagues — is helping to improve or weed out ineffective teachers in Montgomery County, Maryland, reports the Washington Post. The union is cooperating.

. . . Of 66 Montgomery teachers in peer review in the 2008-09 school year, 10 are being dismissed and 21 have resigned or retired. Five will remain in review for a second year. The remaining 30 will successfully exit.

“We’ve changed the whole culture from ‘gotcha’ to support,” said Montgomery Superintendent Jerry D. Weast.

If teachers don’t improve after a year of mentoring, a panel of 16 teachers and principals “decides whether to recommend termination or a second year of monitoring,” reports the Post. “No one gets more than two years.”

Toledo Federation of Teachers pioneered peer review 28 years ago, but few districts have followed suit. It requires a high degree of trust between the superintendent and the union.

In Montgomery County, a poor job evaluation triggers peer review. 

Each year, the program weeds out 2 to 3 percent of the county’s probationary teachers, along with a smaller number of tenured faculty. (Of 66 teachers in peer review this year, 27 had tenure.) In nine academic years, peer review has pared 403 teachers from the system.

Mentors make unannounced classroom visits and exchange dozens of phone calls and e-mails to help teachers improve.

Peer review doesn’t work without more rigorous standards, use of data and managerial discretion, writes Eduwonk.