We Can Do Better

May 11, 2015

Editor’s Note:  Java Robinson, NBCT, teaches second grade in Montgomery County, Md. She supports her colleagues in pursuing and achieving Board certification as a coach, recruitment coordinator and candidate support provider. She is also a Teach Ambassador, working to recruit minority candidates into the teaching profession.  The views expressed in this blog are her own.
We Can Do Better! This has been the battle cry of the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) ever since the election of the new governor in Maryland, who has proposed policy changes and budget cuts to public education.  So what could we do? Nearly 150 parents, service providers, educators and advocates came together at a recent town hall meeting to address the question: “What should we do as a community to ensure a better future for our youth?”

The meeting generated many insightful ideas.  A recreational service provider was really passionate about the need for recreation activities for our students:  “If you call a kid ‘at-risk,’ they will rise to that occasion.”  Why not work with them to change that label, and provide resources that appeal to them?  Another person proclaimed that we should “look at the youth in our community as assets and not burdens.”  We Can Do Better!  With these words of wisdom how do we find ourselves in the predicament that we are in now?  

The charts in the room quickly filled up with suggestions. I decided to share my thoughts, hoping not to offend the collective. “In our system, as we prepare students to be college ready we forget that not all will go to college and that there are other acceptable alternatives. There are alternative programs (cosmetology, carpentry, etc.) offered in some high schools, but not in others.”  As I struggled to get the words out, I watched the expressions of some of the participants change.  

“I agree!” the recreational service provider said vehemently. “We need to stop stereotyping and remember that students in Whitman [a high school in affluent Bethesdal] need these programs just as much as students in Wheaton [a diverse, working class community].  Why are these programs offered in only certain areas and not others? We Can Do Better!

Some of the most popular ideas coming out of the town hall meeting included:

  • In each area there should be one school with a wellness center, where services and resources can be obtained.  
  • Eliminate academic tracking based on tests.  Tests shouldn’t determine a person’s future.  
  • Employ more teachers of color.
  • Unite around shared principles and goals.
With everyone so pumped up after sharing ideas with the group, our MCEA vice-president closed the session by offering up some needed words of wisdom.  In order to enact change we must work together, he declared, “You walk toward your discomfort.  That’s when your greatest learning will occur.” I had never heard that idea put this way before. He asked us to amplify our advocacy, find stories that resonate with the public, and keep our students always in mind. History will judge us by who we are, what we stand for and what we do as a community for our children.

Our vice president included a call for more National Board Certified teachers in our classrooms.  As an NBCT himself, he sees the importance of ensuring great teaching for all our students, and with teachers who are highly dedicated to and reflective about their practice. Lastly, he left us with the observation that leadership is about change; we know going in that it is difficult and that there will be setbacks, but we keep working towards our goals.  

Though our motto is “We Can Do Better,” this event was a starting point to show others that “We Shall Do Better.”    

I’m sure that even though this meeting was intended to begin a conversation in Montgomery County, some of the same issues apply to counties around the nation, and they need to be addressed. We should all consider this conversation might apply in your own context, and remember, We Can Do Better.


Java Robinson, NBCT

Java M. Robinson is a National Board Certified Teacher (Middle Childhood, Generalist) and teaches second grade in Montgomery County, Maryland, where she also serves as a coach, recruitment coordinator and candidate support provider for National Board candidates. She has more than two decades of teaching experience in three states. Java also works with as a Teach Ambassador to recruit others (specifically minorities and men) into the teaching profession, and is an active member of several local education leadership organizations. Teacher.  She enjoys networking with other teachers and advocating for change in public education. Follow Java on Twitter @JavaRobinson.