Accepting nothing less than consistent excellence from teachers was the cornerstone of CNN chief education contributor Dr. Steve Perry’s keynote address on Monday to the International Reading Association 57th Annual Convention in Chicago.
“Every single one of you understands the responsibility we have,” Perry said to a room of 5,000 educators. “And the question you have to ask yourself is ‘is this what you’re called to do?’”
And “a calling” was the only thing teaching can be, Perry stressed throughout his speech. Perry is the founder and principal of one of U.S News and World Reports’ “America’s Best High Schools”, Capitol Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, CN. He said he doesn’t tolerate anyone on his staff who doesn’t view teaching as a calling, and teachers who accept mediocrity–or worse–from their peers are “co-conspirators” in doing damage to students.
“Every single one of us knows who the bad teachers are in every single building,” he said. “On the day you turn your back and pretend you don’t see it… You are contributing to a caustic environment that will not produce the fruit that we need.”
He likened keeping silent on sub-par teachers to allowing a known drug dealer to continue to operate.
Perry is something of a controversial figure in the world of education, known widely for his confrontational tone and stance. He has been criticized for partially placing the blame on current, negative trends in education on educators themselves. On Monday, he directly addressed these criticisms in his keynote speech.
“People say I beat on teachers,” he said. “I [just] don’t want bad teachers in the building. I don’t want bad teachers to exist. I’m not here to make friends.”
Perry said he expects greatness from teachers at all times because in many communities, for many students, the only support received will only come from teachers. He said no one can force a parent or guardian to take an interest in the life of a young person.
“We have an obligation,” he said. “We understand what we signed up for. If this is too hard for you, then find something else to do.”
Perry further warned against treating teaching like a typical, 9-5 job saying that instead of fighting for a job, teachers should be fighting for children.
“We can do better than this,” he said.
- Chris Brennaman