Educational Focus: Good Grades vs Good People

This is my friend, Jessie, who was a WorldTeach volunteer at one of the elementary schools out here last year. She recently delivered this fantastic speech at a TED conference in Michigan. Jessie is definitely in my Top 5 Favorite WorldTeachers of All Time and she does a wonderful job here discussing her experience teaching in American Samoa.

Jessie has the incredibly admirable ability to see the good in everyone and everything; I’m afraid I’m more cynical in general. So, while my views of Samoan culture and how it shapes education are slightly less positive/forgiving than Jessie’s, I totally agree that the imposition of a Western education model on a culture that does not share Western values is not the best idea. We can do much better.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you think this is relevant or applicable to American schools? Should students’ individual cultural values be a consideration of state-wide or national education policy? How can a teacher in a multicultural classroom achieve this sort of balance? What’s more important: grades or behavior? Have you ever had a similar epiphany about the culture of your own classroom?

About Cat Q.

For three years, I lived on a tiny little island in the South Pacific called Ta'u, where I taught elementary and high school English. Much of this blog is a chronicle of my time there, and of the travels we were able to do while we were on that side of the world. Now, I'm doing a different kind of travelling in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia with my husband and two children.
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2 Responses to Educational Focus: Good Grades vs Good People

  1. Jerome says:

    I agree with what the speaker is saying. I think both kindness and content are important, but I think the speakers point was with the kindness you will get the content. To me it goes back to the saying, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I was lucky enough to get to travel to american Samoa for a week and loved it. I wasn’t able to travel between islands because of the ferry and the boat were out of service, I would love to come over there and teach. I found the people to be amazing and have a great sense of community.

    • Cat Q. says:

      Jerome, I love that you brought up that saying. So true. One of the major problems for me this year is that I have several very intelligent kids who are abysmal students–don’t show up for class, are disrespectful, don’t complete assignments, etc. I wonder what these students would be like today if they had more elementary teachers (like Jessie) who focused as much on their citizenship as they did on their grades. It seems that a lot of kids get to high school and assume that their SAT scores are enough. Because I’m a HS teacher, my focus is generally more on their behavior as future employees (we have a lot of “who’s getting a promotion and who’s getting fired” talks, haha). It hurts my heart though to think of the very rude awakening some of my students are going to get if they go off-island for college or to find work.

      By the way, if you are interested in teaching in Manu’a, please contact the Dept of Education. Manu’a schools are always short-staffed! I’d be happy to pass your information on to one of the principals out here (at the HS or one of the elementary schools). If you have an offer at a school you are more likely to be placed there than just sent somewhere randomly.

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