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Teacher Attributes For Inner-City Schools


Q. Are smarter teachers the answer to the underachievement in our low-income schools? Maybe we should pay them more money to come and teach in an urban school if they had a higher SAT score in high school, or aced a teacher licensing exam.


It's not that simple. A high-achieving teacher who goes into a classroom where most of the kids are from low-income and non-English speaking homes, and expects the kids to be on fire for education the way she was, is cruisin' for a major bruisin'.


Although content knowledge and teaching skill is crucial for teachers in any kind of setting, it's more what's in the teacher's heart than in her brains that determines success or failure in the inner-city setting.


That's according to research by Martin Haberman, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee education professor. He says that the key attributes for teachers in ghetto schools or other schools where teachers are hard to hire don't have that much to do with intellect or academic skill, but with attitudes and character.


The challenges of a low socioeconomic classroom of kids include:


n       Students are not ready, physically and emotionally, to learn.


n       Teachers may have to work in unsafe, substandard facilities.


n       Curriculum may be irrelevant to the kids' interests and the imperatives of standardized tests.


n       Supervision may be low quality.


n       Class sizes may be too large.


n       Materials may be inadequate.


n       Paperwork from the typically disorganized or bureaucratic central offices of a monopoly urban school district might kill most time for a teacher's creativity and initiative.


Haberman contends that the teachers who succeed in these classrooms are those who are internally motivated - who see teaching as a calling and a profession, not a job. Those who are motivated by their paycheck or other non-student achievement goals will wind up as "quitter/failers," Haberman says.


The ones we want are those who know that better schooling may be the only chance for a better life for most of the students, and so the focus is on giving them that better schooling, not on the teacher's own needs and desires.


Haberman said a good urban teacher:


n       Warmly accepts students with disabilities.


n       Views parents and caregivers as resources, not enemies, pests or part of the problem.


n       Works well with social service professionals.


n       Has good cultural and ethnic understanding and sensitivity.


n       Knows how to prevent and minimize violence.


n       Respects all students, even if they do bad things.

Homework: Read what teachers have to say on this point on the website of the Teacher Leaders Network, sponsored by the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality:


By Susan Darst Williams Special Learners 010 2008


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