Friday, February 12, 2010

A Hundred Year-Old Gift to the People of St. Paul

How can I have lived here for 12 years and never visited this library?

As a marketer, an educator, and a citizen, I have been missing one of our city’s finest gems – the James J. Hill Business Reference Library, in the same building as the St. Paul Central Library on Rice Park.

This vault-ceilinged, classic room is complete with reference resources from every imaginable industry, and a bank of computers loaded with free access to an incredible wealth of online information. But the best resource of all is the on-duty reference librarian, who will find out what you need and guide you to the right link on the computer that puts a wealth of information at your fingertips.

I spent a rewarding 90 minutes in the library today; I’ll be back.

The Hill Library is supported partly by voluntary contributions. I am planning to make one.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Bush Foundation Teacher Effectiveness Initiative: Research isn't the only reason

The Bush Foundation, established in 1953 by former 3M executive Archibald Bush and his wife Edyth, announced a $40M initiative a couple of months ago that aims to produce 25,000 capable teachers in the next 10 years. You can read more about the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative on the Foundation’s website,

Also on the website is a link to MPR’s January 14 Morning Show, featuring Susan Heegard, the Foundation’s VP and Educational Achievement Team Leader. Both the broadcast and the website feature a solid research base for the decision to spend the money on preparing and supporting teachers. As a former teacher who did get great training, I think that the grant is a great opportunity to make a difference, and that the Bush Foundation has a well-thought out approach to finding some leverage in the system.

Listening to the broadcast, though, I was struck by the journalists’ singular appeal to abstract reasoning and the lack of any reference to personal experience. Unfortunately, the recording cut out about halfway through the broadcast, so I don’t know whether the discussion got around to the “heart” in the issue.

Setting aside the rhetoric, the debate, yes, even the research (temporarily), what is the starting point for making a difference? These are students’ lives we are talking about. No one would question the general connection between competency and earning power. No one would question the importance of education in the economic well-being of nations. No one would question that learning is the mechanism by which progress occurs. And yet, we question the strategic importance of the teacher’s capability?

This broadcast led me to reflect on my personal experience. My first role models (other than my parents)? Teachers. My favorite classes and later favorite subjects? The ones taught by my best teachers. My initial career goal? Become a teacher. My biggest disappointment in the lives of my kids? Not enough capable teachers.

And yet, I was one of those who left the teaching profession early in my career. It had nothing to do with the classroom, which I have always loved, and little to do with the students, who were the center of my existence. It had everything to do with the way that teachers were afforded plenty of blame, plenty of uninformed criticism, and little respect. I told myself I could always go back, since I was “permanently certified.” But I didn’t.

If the grant can accelerate the return of talented students to the ranks of capable teachers, I believe that measures of success will demonstrate that capable teachers do make a difference. And perhaps, long-term, more of our citizens will remember how important their best teachers were in their own lives. When that happens, perhaps our politicians, regardless of party, will be more comfortable supporting the most important investment that any nation can make in its own citizens.