Today I am very pleased to present a Guest Essay from Rochester City School District Superintendent Bolgen Vargas. The essay grew out conversations I had with Bolgen over the summer at the Starbucks Cafe on Monroe Avenue. Back when we had sunshine and little more leisure for reflection.
At that time, we discussed how the District recruits — and then retains — teachers who want to work and thrive in an urban setting. Written especially with beginning teachers in mind, Bolgen speaks directly to teaching as a calling, a passion and a path to meaning.
Over the almost three years when I was the D & C Make City School Better blogger, I sent Bolgen posts about teachers, programs and events within the RCSD. On every occasion — often sent on weekends or early in the mornings — Bolgen responded with thanks and encouragement.
In 1978, a sixteen-year-old boy arrived in New York City from the Dominican Republic. He spoke no English and was surrounded by family who spoke only Spanish. This Spanish-speaking boy entered Seward Park High School in Manhattan on the lower east side, which was ranked among the worst ten percent of high schools in New York State. He soon discovered that he would have to adapt quickly if he was going to survive, let alone succeed.
That boy is me, Bolgen Vargas, and if it were not for my family and the exceptional teachers who helped me along the way, I would not be the person I am today—a high school graduate, a recipient of a doctorate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and the Superintendent of the Rochester City School District.
Teaching is a passion, a calling, the desire to make a difference in children’s lives. I can think of no more noble work than educating our children. I would also argue that urban children—the names and faces who make up the alarming statistics of Rochester’s growing childhood poverty rate—are the most rewarding children to teach.
Urban education offers many unique challenges that our neighboring districts in the suburbs do not face. However, there are resources to help. The Rochester City School District has a unique program for first-year teachers, where experienced mentor teachers are assigned to support them. The Career in Teaching Program has become an esteemed national model, which has improved teacher retention and helped strengthen classroom practice.
Urban schools need dedicated educators who are steadfast in their commitment to students. These are the teachers with a fierce passion that can transcend the urban difficulties of our students—poor attendance, lack of support at home, dangerous neighborhoods, language barriers, and low academic achievement. They want to be part of a positive change and find satisfaction more by the impact they have on children’s lives than anything tangible. The look on a child’s face when he or she has mastered a skill, a young child enjoying a book—these are the rewards.
On several occasions, David Kramer has written blogs about the impact teachers make in their students’ lives:
Quite often when I hear adults recall the people who influenced them the most in life, they speak about that special teacher, whether they offered inspiration, encouragement, or simply a friendly smile.
It reminds me of a quote that has remained meaningful to me over the years.
Life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to throw oneself into a job that puts meaning and hope into the lives of other people. Seizing this opportunity is the surest way to put meaning and hope into one’s own life.
Martin Haberman, Star Teachers of Children in Poverty
I’d like to thank teachers everywhere for taking on the great responsibility of educating our children, and especially, I want to thank Judy Goldberg, who accepted me into her Advanced Placement English class after discovering I was there by mistake as an English as Second Language student. She challenged me and offered me her support if I was willing to work hard to succeed. Whether you’re just out of college or making a career change, I assure you there is no more gratifying job than to teach our children. I know for a fact that Ms. Goldberg would agree.