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Child Watch® Column: "All Children Deserve Teachers Who Care About Them"

Release Date: August 30, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

“You see a lot of teachers judge and stigmatize their students based on where they come from. A lot of my teachers thought that since I was from the South End of Louisville and I grew up in Section 8 housing that I wasn’t capable of doing all the things that I did, and the first time that I really felt like I was someone, it was the first time my fifth grade teacher actually pulled me to the side and said, ‘What can I do for you to help you as a student?’ And I ask my students that now. I pull them to the side and I say, ‘What can I do as an adult to help you?’. . . I feel like every time I talk to someone, I should instill something in them, and I want that in return. And that happens just through treating people with love.”

As children across the country are returning to their classrooms, Janol Vinson is part of the next generation of educators and administrators who will be shaping our children’s future. He recently received his bachelor’s degree in middle grades education from Northern Kentucky University and is now pursuing a master’s degree in higher education administration at Florida International University. Janol spoke at a recent symposium convened by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and the Children’s Defense Fund on “Black Male Teens: Moving to Success in the High School Years” on how he found his own calling in education and his passionate belief in the need for training teachers who love, respect, and set high expectations for every child.

Janol explained that his grandfather, a pastor, helped set the stage for Janol’s success in school with high expectations. His grandfather didn’t have the opportunity to go to college until he was in his mid-40s: “Hearing the stories from my grandfather talking about the [Civil Rights] movement and talking about the things that he sacrificed for my education . . . He set that expectation for me, just saying, ‘You owe this to your family. You owe this to your community. It’s not this is what you should do’—he sat down and said, ‘this is what you are going to do.’ . . . So by the time I did get to high school, I knew . . . I need to make an A in this class because that’s what my grandfather expected from me.”

Janol’s good grades allowed him to attend an excellent magnet high school but he realized he didn’t have any Black male role models there or see his own experience reflected in the curriculum, where, he says, “the first time I saw an African American male in my textbook was as a slave.” He didn’t get to see how a school could go beyond providing an education to transforming lives. When as a young college student he attended a weeklong training to serve as a servant leader intern teaching children in the Children Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools® summer enrichment program, the light bulb went off: “What I saw changed my life forever. Seeing thousands of young people who were excited about enriching the lives of students in grades K through 12 excited me, and the fact that it was all based around reading really just changed my whole mindset on how I viewed education, how I viewed the movement. And by the end of that summer, during my first year of Freedom Schools, I realized that my calling really was to give back to my community and help young people love to read.” Now, “[I] make sure that I set the [high] expectations. So now with my students at my site, I don't say, ‘this is what you should do’. . . I say, ‘this is what you’re going to do.’”

Janol is now an Ella Baker Trainer in the Freedom Schools program teaching others how to inspire a love for learning in children and he wants to see a new kind of teacher training become a priority throughout the educational system. “We need to put more emphasis on helping teachers become better educators—not just teaching a curriculum, but actually educating a child and showing them ways to critically think not only about their curriculum, but about their community and being change agents through academia. We need more trainings for teachers to understand how to analyze curriculum and instruct it and facilitate it in a way where it’s actually connecting to their students. And that’s what is lacking so much in our school system today, the fact that students are not connecting to what they see . . . Students are getting punished based on a teacher who either doesn’t care about them or just doesn’t know what they’re doing. And a lot of these teachers have great degrees—and I think it’s great if you go to an Ivy League [university] and you get a degree in education, but . . . Your credentials cannot educate a child. It’s your heart and your love for that child to get an education. And once we realize that teachers are the main vehicles to help children as a whole, that’s when we’re going to honestly see a change, when we have equitable funding for all teachers and all school systems, because all children deserve a valuable education, and all children deserve teachers who care about them.”

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Recykle1 at: January 26, 2014
I truly feel that all educators should take inconsideration that all children are there to learn and to be taught from a care giver who is there for that purpose and that they should always want to teach with love and understanding of each and every child

Submitted by Grandma2013 at: September 23, 2013
Very authentic and I am interested in the mission of children educational development in life. My passion is to change the world through an eye of serving very well with my educational skills in the development of my children and the community.

Submitted by kaye at: September 5, 2013
I enjoyed reading your column. As a new teacher, I found it very interesting.

Submitted by cw at: September 3, 2013
Excellent column. I am interested in viewing more.

Submitted by Becca at: September 3, 2013
Yes Yes! Lord yes. Thank you.

Submitted by BettyD at: September 2, 2013
Thank you for sharing this story. Teachers are probably the most influential person in a child's life. There are other teacher training programs focused on inspiring a love for learning but too few. A wonderful educator started a program years ago called "Workshop Way" based on inspiring children to love learning. Can't imagine why we aren't already there.

Submitted by Nisha2 at: September 1, 2013
It is so true how Freedom school changed my life as well; for the two years I was an servant leader intern. That is probably why I have a B.S. in Child Development. I'm teaching now, but I do see how some teachers are just on the job for a pay check and care nothing about the child learning skills are giving a child something to look forward to gaining by coming to school. I try to insteal the love of learning and how it can change your life completely. Because I believe the only person can keep you down and from knowing are learning is yourself! So I believe if I can do my part in making learning fun and Instealing in my student the will to learn and do more than just the norm. That it will hopefully be with them throughout their life and they will excel in their life. Knowing that if I work hard and have an positive out look on things I can change the world.

Submitted by dmark at: August 30, 2013
I read earlier during this High Holy Day season that every Jewish person is obligated to write their own Torah, their own holy scroll. I am a teacher (as well as a rabbi). I think that teachers do this every time they reach and influence the life of a student. That's enough of a holy scroll for me.

Submitted by The one at: August 30, 2013
I brought my granddaughter who's on Medicaid to a counselor at gateway in ketckikan Alaska, her first session she was made to believe its was her fault her mother was away getting better, the counselor left her wide open upon leaving, she came home feeling worse about herself cried all night, I went in the next day to ask for another counselor and was turned away, she was not welcome there anymore because "they didn't have what we needed" so she was not allowed in group therapy or I their business neweranymore, the felling she felt was she did something wrong "again" and on their walls it states "everyone has a right to participate in their recovery" she did not like, click with this 28 yr old so the director called and told me she's not welcome to participate, she only 8, been thru hell and back and was enjoying group. Because she's Native American and her mom was at a place to better her life, the 8 yr old had to pay. Talk about abuse!!!

Submitted by Jackie o at: August 30, 2013
I was a teacher for 20 years. Children and teaching was my passion. I am extremely grateful for the training that I received as a teacher in A speciality school in Milwaukee. I learned not only how to engage children in learning but how to help and respect them and their parents. I could not reach them all but the love that I got back from them and their families showed me that I reached some of them. The tragedy was that my career was cut long before I intended because of the " pollitics of education and putting $$ "before what is best for the students. I stood up for what was best of my students and thanks to a loop hole in Tennessee law lost my job. I miss my job every day but I do not regret what I did. Why didn't I work somewhere else ? No jobs in my area or the distance was too far to travel.

Submitted by sissy at: August 30, 2013
Great article.

Submitted by LadyLovell at: August 30, 2013
I read the colum and I am so moved! I feel the words and I see our child every day fall between the cracks! I am a parent coordinator for high school. I see our children not care, so in love w cell phones, clothing, Things, not even aware of the time and opportunity they are Wasting. And yes w very few teachers who truly care. I like the young man in this colum, talk to the students and give them a price of their history, food for thought I call it. And I say you will remember this conversation one day. Please pass the knowledge on. We are a great and pride people. Know your History know yourself. Love yourself. I truly enjoyed your colum, continue to write, I know you will. Enlighten our people, enlighten my sister. Peace, Blessing LL

Submitted by julie at: August 30, 2013
I love this! I love its emphasis on connecting, on creating curriculum and relationships that bridge the territory between "school life" and "real life" as my students call it. Thank you for this