November 27 — 12:00 am, 2003

High school students speak on the ideal teacher

students 1 Photo: Youth VOICES

From June 30 until August 8, the University Community Collaborative of Philadelphia (UCCP) at Temple University sponsored a six-week summer academy entitled "Youth VOICES in Education." Eighty youth from across Philadelphia, with the support of over a dozen college students, worked to identify and address issues that directly impact their experiences in schools. This article was written by eight of those students.

"What can be done to improve Philadelphia high schools for students, families and communities?"

As a part of a survey we designed and conducted during the summer of 2003 to answer this question, we asked 239 youth from a total of 55 Philadelphia high schools what the ideal teacher is. Our survey results showed that:

  • 85 percent said ideal teachers must be knowledgeable about the subject they are teaching.

  • 84 percent said they must have all the degrees that are needed for the subjects they are teaching.

  • 80 percent said ideal teachers must prepare students with the education they need for the future.

Some of the characteristics that students say they want teachers to have are organization, patience, and a willingness to create lesson plans that are new and exciting.

Some students say that they have considered dropping out because of a lack of some of these qualities. Of the students we surveyed who considered dropping out, two-thirds said it was because school was boring; 24 percent said it was because teachers weren’t supportive.

As we were analyzing our survey data, many VOICES participants expressed their own frustrations with teachers. Most of us agreed that many of our teachers are disorganized. Other frustrations include boring in-class activities and times when teachers ignore students.

With these frustrations in mind, we came up with our own list of ideal qualities that we want in a teacher.

We are looking for a higher level of dedication, where teachers see teaching as more than just a job.

Some VOICES participants don’t just want to learn from their teachers, they want them to be their friends. They want them to be people that they can come and talk to.

"The worst thing a teacher can do is not care," says Gary Browne, a senior at Benjamin Franklin High School.

Our peers in the VOICES program held a brainstorming session to generate ideas for improving teacher performance. Proposals included:

  • Organizing opportunities for students and teachers to come together to talk about problems in schools,

  • Allowing students to communicate with teachers about the ways they would like to be taught,

  • Requiring that teachers take a qualifying exam on their material at the beginning of every school year,

  • Having a group of students present issues they are having with teachers at a meeting of the School Reform Commission,

  • Organizing students to facilitate workshops for teachers that will encourage each group to learn from the other, and

  • Keeping a record of complaints about individual teachers.

We recognize that there are many different strategies for building the coalitions necessary to see some of our ideas put into action.

Recently, we have been focusing on making movies that can be used as catalysts for creating change. Our films portray the challenges youth face in their schools and communities. Over the past year, we have made movies about peer pressure, gang conflict, inadequate school environments, and the pressures that lead high school students to consider dropping out.

We plan to use our films to start a dialogue among students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members. We believe our movies are important because they show what is real.

"Teachers and principals need to see our films because, as it is, they don’t know us," explains Browne. "They don’t live in our neighborhoods. Until they know us and what we really need, they are not going to be able to teach us."

We know that students often feel like they can’t make a change on their own. We believe that students need to create alliances with people in power. Our ideas will never be heard as long as we allow adults to silence our perspective. At the same time, our experience in VOICES has taught us that collaborating with adults who support our objectives increases our potential for success.

We invite anyone reading this to join us in the work that we are doing to improve education in the city of Philadelphia.

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