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Guest MINDSETTER™ Rogel: Importance of Caring “Too Much”- Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week

Sunday, May 08, 2016

 

“Erlin, I’m coming to your house and talking to your mom,” said Ms. Yang, my 8th grade Algebra teacher, over the phone. I begged and begged Ms. Yang not to, hoping my mom wouldn’t catch my desperation as I pleaded with Ms. Yang. My mom sat there perplexed. Not knowing English meant she relied on me to translate. This time I wasn’t sure I’d do it, but I ended up not needing to. Ms. Yang visited my mom that evening and told her everything. 

She told her that I was cutting school, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and that my grades were slipping. My mom was a firecracker of a lady; 5’2 but loomed over my teenage frame like a giant. I anticipated the yelling and screaming that night, the piercing stern look. But I didn’t get any of that. Instead, my mom gave me a glazed look, slowly shook her head, and walked into her room closing the door behind her. That stung more than anything else ever could. 

Ms. Yang’s visit that night made me get my act together. I brought my grades back up and was the valedictorian of my 8th grade class. At the time I didn’t understand her visit, and I resented her for it. Why did she care about the decisions I made? It was my life after all. But Ms. Yang wasn’t the only teacher who cared too much. My memories of school are full of profiles of teachers that gave me a little extra homework, celebrated my writing, and pushed me to excel. 

Take for example, Ms. Watson and Ms. Huffman (now Ms. McGowen) who were English teachers at Gilbert Stuart Middle School. Ms. Watson spent countless hours revising my writing -- two, three, sometimes it felt like twelve times. She lobbied my parents and the guidance office to have me skip to the 7th grade, and alternatively advocated that I be transferred to another school’s gifted program. Ms. Huffman, who wasn’t even one of my teachers, made me feel so proud of my writing. I won her annual writing contest all three years I was at Gilbert Stuart and she sat in the audience the day I competed in the citywide spelling bee. ” The day I learned I got accepted to Classical High School (the city’s premier public high school) Ms. Huffman was among my biggest and happiest supporters. 

Providence can be a tough city. Distractions are all around. My neighborhood was plagued with gun violence and drug trafficking, desperation and despair. I could’ve so easily fallen the way that so many of my peers did; on the streets, peddling the black market, living in society’s shadows. The support system I had around me did not allow that to happen though. Teachers like Ms. Yang, Ms. Watson, and Ms. Huffman went out of their way to ensure I was as successful as I could be. They didn’t need to care at all, but fortunately for me they cared “too much.” 

These teachers inspired me to do the same for the next generation. Despite going to law school after graduating college, in my heart I knew that teaching was my true calling. I made the decision to apply to Teach For America (TFA), and now I’m back in my old neighborhood, at the same middle school I attended, teaching kids just like me. 

In my first year teaching at Gilbert Stuart Middle School in my beloved city of Providence, I strive to care “too much” about my students, just like my mentors did for me. I’ve learned from firsthand experience that caring teachers can help students envision prosperous futures, and ensure that every child receives an excellent education. I’m ecstatic that I’m allowed the opportunity to do that through TFA, alongside thousands of others fighting passionately within education and in low-income communities I will always be there for my students, and because of our shared history, there’s never a need for a translator.  

Erlin Rogel grew up in Providence and teaches 6th grade English at Gilbert Stuart Middle School. He is a 2015 Teach For America corps member.

 

Related Slideshow: RI Experts on the Biggest Issues Facing Public Education

On Friday November 22, the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Latino Policy Institute of Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Providence Student Union, and RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now will host Rhode Island leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors for a symposium on "the civil rights issue of the 21st century, adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."

Weighing in on the the "three biggest factors" facing education in the state today are symposium participatnts Gary Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Leadership; Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Executive Director of RI-CAN; Anna Cano-Morales, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Central Falls Public Schools and Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University; Tim Duffy, Executive Director, RI Association of School Committees; and Deborah Cylke, Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools.  

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Sasse

"Provide a state constitutional guarantee that all children will have access to  an education that will prepare them to meet high performance standards and be successful adults.

Bridge the gap between the educational achievement of majority and minority students.  This will require the implementation of a comprehensive agenda for quality education in Rhode Island’s inner cities."

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Sasse

"Revisit school governance and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the state, school districts , neighborhood schools, and school teachers and school administrators.  Develop and implement a system to hold schools responsible for student outcomes."

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Sasse

"Build a consensus and buy in of all stakeholders around  the education reform initiatives being advanced by the Board of Education."

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Metcalfe

"Set high expectations and raise our standards across the state for anyone that contributes to the success of our students. From adopting the Common Core to discussing rigorous teacher evaluations, conversations around creating a culture of high expectations have to be at the center of the work."

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Metcalfe

"Expand opportunities and start earlier - we must ensure that all kids have access to a high performing public school of their choice, which includes full-day kindergarten."

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Metcalfe

"School facilities - with an aging infrastructure, underutilized buildings and the need to provide fair funding for school facilities for all public school students regardless of the public school they attend, this needs to be a top issue tackled by the RI General Assembly in 2014."

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Cano-Morales

"Meet the academic potential of all students but especially with regards to urban schools students -- 3 out of 4 are Latinos in Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket." 

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Cano-Morales

"Connect through specific best practices the academic successes of our students to careers jobs. Investing in schools is economic development as a whole for Rhode Island. " 

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Cano-Morales

"Increase the access to -- and completion of -- higher education and post- secondary opportunities.  Poverty? Struggling families? Education and access to careers and competitive wages is the best antidote."

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Duffy

"Providing adequate funding is critical -- and there are going to be pressures on the state budget, which mean stresses to meet the education funding formula.  With the predictions of the state's projected loss of revenue with the casinos in MA, education funding could be on the cutting board, and we need to ensure that it's not.  Do we need to look at strengthening the language of the constitution to guarantee funding?"

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Duffy

"Implementing the common core standards will provide continuity -- and comparison -- between states now.  With over 40 states involved, we're embarking a new set of standards here."

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Duffy

"Accountability and assessing student performance -- how that it's driven by the common core, we'll be able to compare the best districts in RI against the best districts in say MA.  That's the intent of the Common Core is a standardization of how we hold the system accountable."

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Cylke

"Issue one is quality.  Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code.  And the reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. There's an absolute, clear relationship between the quality of public schools, and economic development of states. There's irrefutable evidence that quality public schools can make states more competitive."

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Cylke

"Issue two is equality.  In West Warwick and Providence, the per pupil spending is around $16K.  In Pawtucket it's $12.9.  What's wrong with that picture? If I'm in charge of overseeing that my students are college ready, they need to be adequate funding.  A difference of $3000 per pupil?  We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars -- more like $25 million in this case.  An exemplary school district is Montgomery County, MD -- they have roughly the same number of students, around 145,000 -- there's one funding figure per pupil. There's equitable funding for all kids."

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Cylke

"Issue three is Infrastructure.  A critical issue is whether the state is going to lift its moratorium in 2014 for renovations for older schools, ore new construction.  If that moratorium is not lifted, and those funds are not available, it is critical to us here in Pawtucket. The average of my schools is 66 years, I've got 3 that celebrate 100 years this year. These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained.  These are assets -- and this is all interrelated with the funding formula."

 
 

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