Here is the full text of educator Rita Pierson’s talk titled “Every Kid Needs a Champion” at TED conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Every kid needs a champion by Rita Pierson
I have spent my entire life either at the schoolhouse, on the way to the schoolhouse, or talking about what happens in the schoolhouse. Both my parents were educators, my maternal grandparents were educators, and for the past 40 years, I’ve done the same thing.
And so, needless to say, over those years I’ve had a chance to look at education reform from a lot of perspectives. Some of those reforms have been good. Some of them have been not so good. And we know why kids drop out. We know why kids don’t learn. It’s either poverty, low attendance, negative peer influences. We know why.
But one of the things that we never discuss or we rarely discuss is the value and importance of human connection. Relationships. James Comer says that no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship. George Washington Carver says all learning is understanding relationships. Everyone in this room has been affected by a teacher or an adult. For years, I have watched people teach.
I have looked at the best and I’ve looked at some of the worst. A colleague said to me one time, “They don’t pay me to like the kids. They pay me to teach a lesson. The kids should learn it. I should teach it, they should learn it. Case closed.”
Well, I said to her, “You know, kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”
She said, “That’s just a bunch of hooey.”
And I said to her, “Well, your year is going to be long and arduous, dear.”
Needless to say, it was. Some people think that you can either have it in you to build a relationship, or you don’t. I think Stephen Covey had the right idea. He said you ought to just throw in a few simple things, like seeking first to understand, as opposed to being understood. Simple things, like apologizing. You ever thought about that? Tell a kid you’re sorry, they’re in shock.
I taught a lesson once on ratios. I’m not real good with math, but I was working on it. And I got back and looked at that teacher edition I’d taught the whole lesson wrong. So I came back to class the next day and I said, “Look, guys, I need to apologize. I taught the whole lesson wrong. I’m so sorry.” They said, “That’s okay, Ms Pierson. You were so excited, we just let you go.”
I have had classes that were so low, so academically deficient, that I cried. I wondered, “How am I going to take this group, in nine months, from where they are to where they need to be? And it was difficult, it was awfully hard. How do I raise the self-esteem of a child and his academic achievement at the same time? One year I came up with a bright idea I told all my students, “You were chosen to be in my class because I am the best teacher and you are the best students, they put us all together so we could show everybody else how to do it”
One of the students said, “Really?”
I said, “Really. We have to show the other classes how to do it, so when we walk down the hall, people will notice us, so you can’t make noise. You just have to strut.” And I gave them a saying to say: “I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I’ll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful, and I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here. I have things to do, people to impress, and places to go.”