Teachers must see students as ‘superstars’ – Spence

By RON FANFAIR

Teachers must do whatever it takes, including demonstrating the virtues of achieving, believing and caring to help every student improve their performance in the classroom and ultimately reach their full potential, says the incoming director of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Dr. Chris Spence.

“I believe that we have a moral purpose and that is to make a difference in the lives of the students that we seek to reach and teach,” he said at a community forum organized by York Centre trustee, James Pasternak, at Oakdale Park Middle School where Spence began his teaching career 17 years ago. “I believe that we have to embrace learning for all.

“Traditionally, the role of the school has been to ensure that all students are taught. But now, we are trying to make a shift to ensure all students learn.

“As such, the most important thing that we can do as a community and as educators is to raise literate children and students that are proficient readers and writers. We have to ensure that we embrace literacy for life so that all students have the skills to listen attentively, speak persuasively, read with understanding and write with command because under-developed literacy skills are the number one reason why students are failing to graduate from high school.

“And the point of the matter is that students entering the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than at any other time in human history.”

Spence, a former Canadian Football League (CFL) running back, will assume his new post on July 1 after serving as the Director of Education with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board for the past five years.

As an educator who understands the importance of creating the best possible outcomes for students, Spence said it is imperative that teachers learn to follow their students and build on what the young people know and can do in order to close the achievement gap.

“I do understand that we are living in a different world and that technology is no longer an option but an essential tool for learning,” he said. “Work, tools, communication, information, kids and learning are all different. With all of these differences, teaching also must be different. When a teacher tries to teach the same thing to the whole class at the same time, chances are one-third of the students already know it, one-third doesn’t get it and one-third won’t. So, two-third of the students are wasting their time.

“We have to build capacity to ensure differential instruction is happening in our classrooms. I don’t think you have to be a superstar teacher to differentiate the instruction. You have to be someone who believes that students are superstars. We have to provide opportunities everyday for all of our students. The same students that we say can’t read and write, can create and remember complex hip hop lyrics, understand movement on a basketball court and travel through time and space at high speeds, anticipate future moves and create elegant responses. Don’t tell me they can’t learn.

“It’s how we teach them and how we engage them.”

Pasternak supported the establishment of Canada’s first Africentric alternative school which is set to open in September. Trustees voted 11-9 in favour of the school and, last May, the TDSB approved a recommendation to set it up at Sheppard Public School as a junior kindergarten to Grade Five option with the capacity to grow to Grade Eight. The school will be in Pasternak’s ward.

“Almost a year ago, I was asked if I was willing to include the Africentric Alternative School in Ward Five,” Pasternak, who is also the TDSB Special Education Advisory Committee vice-chair, said. “I saw in this school great hopes and large dreams and I felt a responsibility to not only give it a place to set up but to give it a home we all want to return to and a home where family awaits and friends gather.

“The road has not been easy. The attacks by the media, the brittle e-mails, the letters, the criticisms, the mocking by early morning talk show hosts and a betrayal by a colleague. But, then, it occurred to me that the managing of change and carving a path for social justice have never been easy. If it had been so easy, these goals that we dream about would have been reached long ago.”

Jamaican-born Glenford Duffus who, last January, assumed the role of Superintendent of the North West Two Region Family of Schools that includes the Africentric School, was introduced at the forum.

Anne Seymour, the TDSB’s System Superintendent of Urban Diversity Strategy, presented some of the board’s new initiatives for boosting student success while the Oakdale Park Middle School dancers performed for the audience which included representatives from the African Heritage Educators Network.

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