In his first address to the Tuscaloosa City Schools’ more than 1300 employees, superintendent Mike Daria told teachers not to be focused on test scores at the annual Institute Day event.
“We must be relentless and obsessed with learning,” he said to thunderous applause.
Teachers and staff returned to work Monday greeted by high school band members and cheerleaders in a pep rally-like atmosphere.
Daria challenged teachers to ask tough questions of themselves.
“Do you take it personally if a student is not successful in your classroom?” he asked. “If I ask a student in your class 'Who in this school is your advocate and champion,' will he say your name? If not, why not?”
That question was easy to answer for author and keynote speaker Liz Huntley, who credited a compassionate pre-school teacher, among many teachers, who urged to raise above her circumstances and to do “smart stuff” in school.
Huntley said it was a sixth-grade teacher who noticed her love of reading and challenged her to read about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It was then, she began to believe that she could do extraordinary things as well.
“He knew the story behind my eyes and he wanted to help me beyond,” she said.
Huntley called the work of teachers “the artists of human potential.”
Chandra Mason, sixth-grade science and math teacher at Rock Quarry Middle School, said Huntley's experiences with overcoming struggles within her family resonated with her.
"I believe building relationships with love can break generational curses," Mason said. "It was something that helped me break generational curses in my family."
Daria’s speech connected Huntley’s message to the work teachers must do this school year.
“Our expectations are made clear here today. Every child in this system can and must learn,” Daria said. "Every student must be treated with respect, dignity, and love. This is one standard of excellence that is not up for discussion.”
Students return Aug. 11.
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