Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Teachers as World Growers

September 09, 2014

In August, Bill and Melinda celebrated teachers on The Gates Notes in honor of “back to school” season and all the hard work that teachers do. We are continuing the conversation on our blog—highlighting teachers from across the country who know best what it takes to make a classroom successful.

Mark Anderson, special education coordinator at M.S. 228 Jonas Bronck Academy, answers some of our questions and talks about how he is collaborating in new ways with his colleagues.

Why did you want to become a teacher?
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said that the “The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation . . . It must be a peace that rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.”

I became a teacher because I wanted to become a part of that cooperative effort, to become a part of something much greater than myself. Arne Duncan has suggested that teachers be called "nation builders." I suggest that we more accurately be termed "world growers." The building blocks of our future rests within the hearts and minds of our children. There is thus a great responsibility and power that a teacher has to shape our collective future each day.

Yet a teacher doesn't simply shape children, a teacher is shaped themselves through their interactions with children. A child is like a mirror of our greatest hopes and fears, they can be our greatest critic, our greatest inspiration. This awesome challenge and opportunity to grow myself and others as an integral part of that future world is what originally attracted me to teaching, and what drives me to learn and grow each day.

How have new standards changed your teaching practice or your classroom?
Consistent standards have enabled me to collaborate with colleagues beyond the confines of my school and state and develop a more common understanding of curriculum, such as in my work with LearnZillion.

The standards have provided an anchor for increasing my own expectations in my classrooms. In special education in particular, there is a tendency towards remediation, rather than challenge. But when the question shifts from "What book can I find at each of their levels?" to "How can I scaffold and provide access to this challenging material for all of my students?" I find that my planning and practice is transformed. Far too often, students facing great challenges are provided content and materials that are either completely separate from what other students are learning, or are exactly the same, with little support. The standards provide teachers an opportunity to ask better questions about what is getting taught and how.

I see 8th-graders having deep discussions about segregation after reading books like To Kill a Mockingbird, drawing from knowledge they've gained in social studies. I see 6th-graders having arguments about complex social issues they've read about in informational texts, drawing from knowledge they've gained in science and math. For my students, the fact that what they learn in ELA now more often corresponds to what they learn in other content areas and to the real world ensures much richer discussions in the classroom.

Melinda Gates recently busted the myth that teachers don’t work over the summer. What did you do this summer to prepare for school?
Over the summer, I participated in a 10 day "summer intensive" for the Leadership Advancement Program that I'm in, and I've been developing Common Core-aligned close reading lessons for LearnZillion, plus curriculum mapping with my colleagues from my school!

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