by Claire Miller
Adelaide Sanford knows from firsthand experience the difficulties educators face trying to teach and motivate students.
Sanford, who served as an elementary school teacher, guidance counselor, assistant principal and principal in New York City during her 35-year career in education, worked with her colleagues to find ways to keep students engaged in their classwork.
“Teaching is work. It’s hard work because you’re confronted by so many issues,” Sanford told attendees at the 24th annual Benjamin E. Mays Lecture. “You can’t expect all children to come to school motivated to learn – teachers have to inspire their students. Our discussions were about how to motivate children and to create that kind of environment in the classroom.”
More specifically, Sanford told anecdotes from her experiences interacting with people from different backgrounds in an urban school system, and encouraged educators to thoughtfully consider how students’ cultural backgrounds and value systems have an impact on how well they do in school.
In the same way, she said teachers and administrators should develop relationships with students’ parents and families – an important step toward understanding where students come from and how best to address their needs.
“If we’re going to talk about urban educational excellence, we have to know what excellence in urban education looks like,” said Sanford, who served two 3-year terms as vice chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents. “We’ve got to talk about health, housing, curriculum and culture.”
Following her lecture, Sanford answered questions from the audience and moderator Angela Tuck, education assignment editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, about the people who inspire her and the advice she would give college graduates going into the teaching profession.
For Sanford, successful teachers are those who don’t see difficulties they face in schools as insurmountable obstacles; instead, they look for ways to work through the issues.
“You can always define a problem in a way that doesn’t have a solution,” she said. “And many times, that’s what we do. But we need to look at the weaknesses of a problem and bring in the people and resources that we need to figure it out.”
The annual Benjamin E. Mays Memorial Lecture Series, which began in 1989 and is co-hosted by the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence, is intended to encourage the discussion of issues facing urban educational leaders through a series of symposia, conferences and lectures. This program not only honors the memory of Benjamin E. Mays, former Atlanta Board of Education member and past president of Morehouse College, but also promotes his philosophy of excellence in the education of those typically least well served by the larger society.
For more information about the lecture series and other events and programming sponsored by the Crim Center, visit http://education.gsu.edu/cuee.