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Αt the risk of sounding cliché, I always wanted to be a teacher. It’s my calling. My mother and father were teachers when I was growing up in St. Louis and I’ve been fortunate to have wonderful teachers throughout my education, from elementary to graduate school.
I simply wanted to do what they did. I wanted to be to some child what those teachers - now my mentors and even my friends - were to me.
Today I am a teacher. I recently began my third year at the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School in Indianapolis, where I teach Humanities to seventh graders. Tindley is a public charter school with a 98 percent African-American student body and a 100 percent college acceptance rate. Our students - who are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis - finish the standard high school curriculum by 10th grade. At that point they take college courses offered by adjunct professors at Anderson University. If the students get As or Bs, they get college credit.
We do not "track" our students, which means they are not segregated once in high school into classes that fit their perceived abilities. We expect all of our students to be able to tackle our accelerated curriculum. With this curriculum, we’ve proved that most students can perform at levels normally considered "gifted" if they are simply given the chance and the resources they need to learn.
I was drawn to Tindley after learning about it from the school’s founder and academic dean Siri Loescher, and its principal and CEO Marcus Robinson, both of whom, like me, are DePauw University alums. Siri and Marcus make sure Tindley students - and, importantly, teachers, too - get the resources they need to succeed.
For many of us teachers, that doesn’t mean added technology or reduced class sizes, but attention and collaboration. The first thing Siri and Marcus told me in my job interview is that Tindley teachers are held accountable - not only by parents and students, but also by the administrators themselves.
You would think that would be typical of all schools, but unfortunately it’s not. Too many teachers are simply allowed to close their doors when the bell rings. Too many administrators close their doors, too.
At Tindley, our doors remain open. We have what I call a "culture of reflection," where administrators and teachers freely exchange ideas, strategies, and, yes, constructive criticism. As a member of the Indiana Department of Education's Evaluation Leadership Cabinet, I know that the state is working hard to create effective metrics for evaluating teachers and school leaders that will further promote a culture of reflection within schools.
Next week I will be taking what I’ve learned at Tindley to New York City, where I’ll be participating in a first-of-its-kind event sponsored by NBC News called "Education Nation." NBC has committed to bringing policymakers, business leaders, elected officials, school administrators, parents, and teachers together to discuss how best to improve our education system. While in New York, I’ll also take part in Teacher Town Hall, a teachers-only discussion moderated by NBC’s Brian Williams and broadcast on MSNBC. I’ll also be teaching a lesson at NBC’s interactive "Learning Plaza" at Rockefeller Plaza.
At the risk of earning less than an "A" in creative writing, I’ll end where I began: with a cliché. We all know that one of the chief indicators of student success is an active and engaged teacher.
Tindley has created a model of accountability for teachers and students that works. I hope my peers and the national leadership at the conference will learn from the Tindley example: When school administrators and teachers simply open their doors and engage with one another, students benefit.
James Larson is a teacher at the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School in Indianapolis. Last year he received the school’s Teacher of the Year Award.