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Commentary By Calvin Jackson: Teachers Need To Innovate And See Past Students' 'Issues'

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Calvin Jackson is a senior at a D.C. high school.
Calvin Jackson
Calvin Jackson is a senior at a D.C. high school.

In many D.C. Public Schools classrooms, teachers face a lot of disinterested or uncooperative students. But I can vouch that there's a wealth of hidden talent and intelligence waiting to be tapped -- if the teacher has the right skills. To define those skills, we have to look at professions way outside of education.

Imagine being sent to Mbuiru, Kenya, a village river community surrounded by farm land with no access to grid electricity. Many people would find it hard to see past the poverty. But an entrepreneur would see the flowing rivers as a source of hydro-power. That's the way a teacher needs to think about the resources in her classroom.

Of course, it's not easy to hold the attention of students who come to class with a host of "issues" not related to school. That's why a good teacher also needs the charisma and energy of a TV talk show host. I can't tell you how many times my teachers have read straight out of a textbook. And even the ones who try to facilitate discussions don’t always know how to relate to us, get us talking or keep us engaged.

But at the end of the day, teachers can't just entertain. They also have to show results. That's why a good teacher also has to be like a football coach. That doesn't mean merely enforcing order and drilling players. Coaches know how to motivate and when to give extra encouragement.

I've heard teachers tell students who are acting up that they'd never make it to college or live to be 18 –- not not exactly inspiring words.

I've seen too many teachers who seem to be there just for the paycheck and not enough entrepreneurs/TV show hosts/coaches in the classroom.

But I have had a few exceptional teachers, individuals who chose teaching over more lucrative and prestigious careers. For them, bringing change to a child's life is satisfying to the soul. And that mentality comes across to students and makes an enormous difference.

Calvin participates in WAMU's Youth Voices program in partnership with Youth Radio and D.C's Latin American Youth Center.

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