After reading Jay Mathews’s book “Work Hard, Be Nice” I feel truly inspired. And also amazed. Mr. Mathews takes a stunning look at the founding of KIPP and its charismatic leaders Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg. It really makes me appreciate all the hard work and dedication it takes to not only be a good teacher, but also to reform the education system.
On the other hand, it also makes me a bit…wistful and sad. If those are the right words. Especially when it comes to salaries. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe monetary compensation is everything. In fact, far from it. But the salaries being offered to teachers are abominable. These are the people who spend 7-8 hours a day (more in the case of KIPP teachers) with your kids. They provide your kids with the tools they need to succeed in the future, to be productive members of society and to make a difference in the world, and, on a more personal level, to provide a better life for their kids. And what do we pay them? Barely enough money to survive. It’s no surprise that many of the best and the brightest don’t go into teaching, despite the challenging work environment and ability to truly make a difference – two characteristics that I think many people value in a job. Why should they work long hours and be paid pennies, when they can work long hours and get paid like an investment banker?
But I stray from the point. I highly recommend this book. I feel like you really get a chance to see what it takes to reform education – the hard work and the passion. These two men did everything – from negotiating classroom space, to learning from experienced teachers, to knocking on doors to recruit for their school. And their commitment didn’t stop there. They extended the school day and even provided their students with a direct line to their teachers, fielding calls from students late into the night when they needed homework help. That’s dedication. I think one of my favorite anecdotes, was a class trip to Washington D.C. Filled with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a ridiculously large number of kids per room, they were able to provide their students with a truly memorable and life changing experience – to teach them not from a classroom but from real life.
Although the book focuses on the KIPP schools, I think that it also exemplifies the risks, setbacks and journey anyone needs to take to truly succeed in life. With any project, there will be times when you just don’t want to go on, when it just doesn’t seem worth it anymore. It’s how you deal with these setbacks that truly defines who you are.