MARGARET FORTUNE: Teachers – Good And Bad – Are At The Heart Of It All

sac-button-tueOPINION – One of my most memorable students this year has been a third grader named Curtis. He came to my attention early in the year when I visited his classroom. The students were bubbling over with excitement. They wanted to show me a new multiplication rap their teacher had taught them called, “I know all my 3s, 3s, 3s.”

Curtis was beaming as he rapped about his multiplication tables. Like an artist, he was totally committed. Midway through the song, Curtis yelled “breakdown” and the class erupted into freestyle dance and then on a cue from their teacher returned to reciting their multiplication tables with military precision.

Over the year, Curtis has become an Honor Roll student, strong in writing and mathematics. He is always the first to shake my hand when I visit his classroom.

But, Curtis has not always been a model student. He came to us with a discipline record a mile long, with one negative report after another about bad behavior. He had more suspensions for fighting than you could count on two hands. When I reviewed his file, I couldn’t believe it was about the same kid. It drove home the point for me of just how much great teachers are at the heart of it all when it comes to student success.

Curtis has mentioned that he has fun at school and has formed ties with school staff that feel like family. According to his teacher, Curtis’ attitude turned a corner when he began getting rewards for his positive behavior and began reaping more out of being a scholar than being mischievous.

One advantage charter schools, like those I run, have in educating children is that we get to choose our teachers and if they don’t perform, we can let them go. I have seen how magical it is when we choose well. I’ve also experienced what a disaster it is when we make a mistake.

While it is never easy to let a person go, my sense of accountability to parents and their children motivates me to have difficult conversations with teachers who underperform. There is nothing more compelling than the raw honesty of a parent who expects you to deliver something better for their child than they had for themselves in school.

On the flipside, teachers who rock deserve to be recognized and promoted. As for Curtis, he is my daily reminder of why we do this work. It’s about the kids. Breakdown!

By Margaret Fortune

Margaret Fortune is the President and CEO of Fortune School of Education. The organization launched a network of public charter schools located in Sacramento and San Bernardino counties. The K-12 school system is focused on closing the African American achievement gap, preparing scholars for college starting in Kindergarten. The network currently includes three K-8 campuses with combined enrollment of 900 students, and has approval to open seven more schools. Ms. Fortune also operates a graduate school of education, credentialing teachers and school administrators with a focus on charter school leadership. For more information, visit

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