Monday, September 5, 2011

The Bridge that Ms. Scritchfield Built....

I was in ninth grade (nearly 30 years ago) when a teacher changed my life by building a bridge to a Road less traveled.
The Year: 1981
The School: Central Jr. High School
The Location: Chambersburg, PA
The Teacher: Ms. Scritchfield, 9th grade English Teacher
The Story: One day Ms. Scritchfield opened up the class by telling us that over the next few weeks we would be studying poetry. I do not remember anyone jumping for joy after this announcement, but I do remember what followed this initial proclamation.  She went on to say that each of us would be responsible for analyzing, memorizing and reciting (in front of the entire class) a specific poem: "The Road Not Taken," By Robert Frost. It was that last part - the part about reciting for the rest of the class - that I had a serious problem with.

In ninth grade, I was passionate about pretty much one thing. Guess what! No, not girls. Like so many African American males then and now, I dreamt of one day being a pro athlete. To be more specific, I dreamt of one day being the next Tony Dorsett, running back for the Dallas Cowboys.

So, when I heard this assignment - reciting for the class a poem about Roads by a white man, named Frost...I could not see how any of it had anything to do with what was most important to me at the time. However, Ms. Scritfield could see.

When I "pushed back" to her about this assignment, she did something that all great teachers do: she listened to me and built a bridge from a football-dreaming-boy to the rough road that Robert wrote about.

I crossed over that "bridge" by analyzing, memorizing, and yes...reciting that poem for the entire class. But I did not stop there. I wrote and recited my own poem...about football. But I did not stop there. I went on to become an English teacher, a high school principal, an Assistant Superintendent, a Chief Academic Officer, and now the Deputy Director for Empowering Effective Teachers at the Foundation.

Great teachers do many things, but one of the most important is building bridges from where their students are to where they can be. Thank you, Ms. Scritchfield!

I am so excited about being a part of an effort to look closely at what great teachers do to understand how and why they do what they are effective. This knowledge and understanding will increase the likelihood that all American children learn from and with teachers who have the knowledge, skills and support to help students realize their dreams….and so much more.

1 comment:

  1. Irvin,

    Thank you for this anecdote. It sounds like Ms. Scritfield was able to keep the heart of the matter in perspective. It wasn't about her students learning Frost's poem. It was about her students.

    I was never blessed with a single teacher that inspired me in primary and secondary education. I attribute this to attending schools that did not hold teachers accountable and that did not have academic excellence as their first priority. I was inspired by an educator after high school, which is why I am where I am today.

    In fact, you were the educator who inspired me when I was as green as the grass at McCaskey East High School. I was learning about standards and curriculum at the time, and how to manage a classroom.

    I was not a natural teacher the way you described yourself in your first post. I had to work at it and I desperately wanted to succeed because I knew I could help the kids who had to work a little bit harder to do well. I am one of them, and I am an example to them that we can will our way to achievement. If it does not come naturally, all is not lost.

    Nothing is stronger than a desire to succeed. Every student, teacher, parent, friend, or whomever we can mention has a desire to succeed and to avoid suffering. It is the human condition. As teachers, we simply have to know that our students want to do well, just like us. They don't want to miss assignments, get failing grades on exams, never learn how to write an analytical essay, or experience disciplinary consequences on a regular basis. They want to do well, just like us. When I realized this simple fact, probably in the middle of one of your (our school's) ARCH assemblies, teaching began to make sense. The students saw that I finally understood. We turned the corner together. It was wonderful.

    Kevin Briggs the teacher could have probably remained in the profession in some way without ever having met Irvin Scott. However, employing Kevin Briggs would have become a disservice to our students. It is a lesson for educational leaders. We have a duty to bring out the best in our teachers, even if it means that their best will emerge in a different profession.