It’s the second day of classes here in the Dallas Independent School District (Dallas ISD, or DISD). Already we experience great trials from the loss of funding across the board in Texas education, as Gov. Rick Perry encouraged the state legislature to cut more than $4 billion from schools. Cuts will be larger next fall.
At Molina High School we have about 25% more students, with 10% fewer teachers. Classes strain the seams of the school — classrooms are crowded, desks and chairs are in short supply. Computers promised for teachers, supposed to be delivered eight months ago, still are not delivered. Printers, printing supplies, and paper, stand in conservation mode. There are so few technical support people that those few new computers delivered often are not set up to operate yet.
Teachers need encouragement. Here’s a bit of it.
What follows is mostly encore post, from 2008.
Taylor Mali is one of my usual suspects for inspiring teachers. He does a great job, with just a tinge of profanity (appropriately placed, many teachers argue – if they ask for it, you have to give it to them).
This year’s inspiration for Dallas teachers comes from Dalton Sherman, a fifth grader at Charles Rice Learning Center. Here’s a YouTube video of the presentation about 20,000 of us watched last Wednesday, a small point that redeemed the annual “convocation” exercise, for 2008:
Sherman’s presentation rescued what had been shaping up as another day of rah-rah imprecations to teachers who badly wanted, and in my case needed, to be spending time putting classrooms together.
(By the way, at the start of his presentation, you can see several people leap to their feet in the first row — Mom, Dad, and older brother. Nice built-in cheering section.)
Staff at DISD headquarters put the speech together for Dalton to memorize, and he worked over the summer to get it down. This background is wonderfully encouraging.
First, it makes a statement that DISD officials learn from mistakes. Last year the keynote was given by a speaker out of central casting’s “classic motivational speaker” reserves. As one teacher described it to me before the fete last Wednesday, “It was a real beating.”
Second, DISD’s planning ahead to pull this off suggests someone is looking a little bit down the road. This was a four or five month exercise for a less-than-10 minute presentation. It’s nice to know someone’s looking ahead at all.
Third, the cynical teachers gave Dalton Sherman a warm standing ovation. That it was delivered by a 10-year-old kids from DISD made a strong symbol. But the content was what hooked the teachers. Superintendent Michael Hinojosa provided a death-by-PowerPoint presentation leading up to the speech, one that was probably not designed solely as contrasting lead in. In other words, Dalton Sherman’s speech demonstrated as nothing else the district has done lately that someone downtown understands that the teachers count, the foot soldiers in our war on ignorance and jihad for progress.
The kids came back Monday, bless ’em. School’s in session, to anyone paying attention.
- Dallas Morning News story on Sherman and his methods
- Dallas Morning News version of the video (not squashed – better quality on some computers)
- Full text, as provided in an opposite-editorial page piece in the Dallas Morning News
Full text of Dalton Sherman’s speech to Dallas Independent School District teachers, August 20, 2008:
I believe in me. Do you believe in me?
Do you believe I can stand up here, fearless, and talk to all 20,000 of you?
Hey, Charles Rice Learning Center – do you believe in me?
That’s right – they do.
Because here’s the deal: I can do anything, be anything, create anything, dream anything, become anything – because you believe in me. And it rubs off on me.
Let me ask you a question, Dallas ISD.
Do you believe in my classmates?
Do you believe that every single one of us can graduate ready for college or the workplace?
You better. Because next week, we’re all showing up in your schools – all 157,000 of us – and what we need from you is to believe that we can reach our highest potential.
No matter where we come from, whether it’s sunny South Dallas, whether its Pleasant Grove, whether its Oak Cliff or North Dallas or West Dallas or wherever, you better not give up on us. No, you better not.
Because, as you know, in some cases, you’re all we’ve got. You’re the ones who feed us, who wipe our tears, who hold our hands or hug us when we need it. You’re the ones who love us when sometimes it feels like no else does – and when we need it the most.
Don’t give up on my classmates.
Do you believe in your colleagues?
I hope so. They came to your school because they wanted to make a difference, too. Believe in them, trust them and lean on them when times get tough – and we all know, we kids can sometimes make it tough.
Am I right?
Can I get an Amen?
So, whether you’re a counselor or a librarian, a teacher assistant or work in the front office, whether you serve up meals in the cafeteria or keep the halls clean, or whether you’re a teacher or a principal, we need you!
Please, believe in your colleagues, and they’ll believe in you.
Do you believe in yourself? Do you believe that what you’re doing is shaping not just my generation, but that of my children – and my children’s children?
There’s probably easier ways to make a living, but I want to tell you, on behalf of all of the students in Dallas, we need you. We need you now more than ever.
Believe in yourself.
Finally, do you believe that every child in Dallas needs to be ready for college or the workplace? Do you believe that Dallas students can achieve?
We need you, ladies and gentlemen. We need you to know that what you are doing is the most important job in the city today. We need you to believe in us, in your colleagues, in yourselves and in our goals.
If you don’t believe – well, I’m not going there.
I want to thank you for what you do – for me and for so many others.
Do you believe in me? Because I believe in me. And you helped me get to where I am today.
Post Script: Dalton Sherman’s school suffered layoffs last year, in 2010. Earlier this year he used his oratorical skills to support teachers protesting cuts to education in Austin, before the Texas Lege. He was unsuccessful in swaying enough of the legislators, and Texas schools lost $4 billion.