Don't Wait for Superman--Be the Superhero for Your Students

by Lorna Baniaga-Lee

In 2010, Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for Superman documentary called his audience to take action and make a difference in our dysfunctional educational system in America. The trailer of the film lures the audience with images of students who desperately want to succeed in school. It continues with statistics of how our schools are failing them. The trailer ends with clips of students and parents, distressed and anxious, as they wait for their number to be called. The film follows the journey of five students and their families as they apply for a lottery to get into a charter school--portrayed as the light in this dark educational system.

Guggenheim presents the audience with a glimmer of hope through charter schools--schools that are given the flexibility to be innovative to meet students’ needs to be successful. Guggenheim cleverly ends the documentary watching each student being denied or accepted to a school while keeping that glimmer of hope flickering to those who were accepted. In the end credits, Guggenheim states that “the problem is complex” but the “steps are simple.”

It is now 2017 and our nation is still looking for that glimmer of hope to provide that quality of education for our children. For the last 20 years as a classroom teacher, I find that glimmer of hope seems to be so heavily dependent on policy makers and those who are not even in the classroom. Why? Why do we look for hope in those who lack the knowledge and experience of what it means to be a classroom teacher? Why do we look for hope and solutions from a group that has no idea of what it is like to teach 35+ students in a 100-degree classroom? Why do we look for hope in those who only measure the success of our schools through numbers and test scores? Why do we hold their conclusions so dearly when they don’t even understand what we as educators deem as being successful? Why do we waste so much time and energy being so disappointed and angry at those who think they are the answers to our educational problems?

Instead, let’s look around us.  Let us look in the mirror.  We--teachers, administrators, counselors, educational assistants--are that glimmer of hope for our students. We may already have what it takes to make changes within our schools to provide that quality education that our students deserve. Our students see us; they do not see the politicians and policy makers.

Campbell

James Campbell High School Superheros of administrators, counselors and teachers convene to plan and collaborate for a successful school year.  

Even when there is too much emphasis on testing and not enough real life skills taught in our classrooms, we still have the power to develop those important skills. Important life skills of not giving up and persevering.  While delivering a mandated curriculum and being expected to provide a place for students to be innovative can be infuriating, we still have the power to make things better for our students. When I realized that I was getting angry at an invisible person for these circumstances, I decided to focus my energy on how I could provide a space for my students to be innovative within the curriculum I was given.

I also realized that I could not wait for others to validate what I do. Our students also can’t wait for others to value our profession. As educators, we need to value each other more for the amazing work that we do everyday. When observing a colleague in one of your learning walkthroughs, be that person who acknowledges them for that great lesson delivered. That simple act will go a long way. In addition, we need to celebrate each other and our profession. Let’s find ways to honor and highlight our many little successes. In doing so, we are elevating who we are and the important work that we do for our community, our society, our world.

I am not dismissing the responsibilities of the elected officials whom we put into power. We need to hold them accountable for their promises and positions; however, we cannot rely on them to be the solution. Instead, we need to believe that we have more power than we will ever know. Our educational problems are complex but we can’t simply wait for Superman to swoop in and solve them for us. We need to be the superhero and that glimmer of hope for our students. They deserve it. We owe it to them.

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Lorna Baniaga-Lee is National Board Certified and has been an English teacher for the last 20 years at James Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, Hawaii. In addition to being a classroom teacher, she leads the school’s Induction and Mentoring program to support beginning teachers and provides professional development courses to help build teacher leaders. She is also a 2016 Hope Street Group Fellow.