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Authenticity in the Classroom

posted on November 20, 2017 by Christina Rodriguez, Generation Justice Fellow

Louis Gonzales head shot

“We’re not teaching to a test, we’re teaching students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. We’re teaching them to do something right now, and not wait around until they’re college graduates.”

 

It’s 2002 in Little Rock, Arkansas. A young soldier from Angie, Louisiana asks this question to 20-something Louis Gonzalez, about to become a Second Lieutenant in the Army.

“Sir, are we going to… am I going to die?”

“I remember kind of being lost in thought with that question,” Gonzalez says now, 15 years later. That was the day when he decided that instead of leading young people into the unknown, he wanted to build them up. He wanted to become a teacher.

He took the risk, moved to Albuquerque, and began to teach.

“Learning is about discovery. You, as a teacher, have to be willing to explore as much as the students do. We have to learn alongside of our students.”

Through his first few years of teaching inside Albuquerque Public Schools, one of the largest school districts in the U.S., Gonzales realized the teachers largely work in isolation. He began to ask deeper questions – What is education? How do you make Shakespeare relevant to a 13 year old? Aren’t there better ways of measuring student achievement?

Feeling unable to innovate and to create, he quickly started losing direction and decided to quit teaching altogether. Maybe become a public defender instead.

Then, a friend told him about ACE Leadership High School. With hesitancy, Gonzalez decided to visit, without bringing a resumé, without expecting a call back, without the expectation that being a teacher was even right for him.

He got the position. It rekindled the fire.

Now, Louis Gonzalez is a teacher at Health Leadership High School, a partner school of ACE, and an Instructional Coach in the Leadership High School Network. For the past six years, Louis has been in the classroom as an expert of Project-Based Learning curriculums.

For the past three years, he has been an Instructional Coach advising administrators, teachers, and students about what it means to be part of a education system that promotes collaboration over isolation.

“You have to have a firm understanding of your practice, your teaching philosophy, and about who you are, when you walk into that classroom with somebody else,” Gonzalez explains.   

At a school like Health Leadership, teachers work in teams and the school is part of a larger network. It exemplifies how teachers can support one another inside the classroom – creating dynamic environments, taking risks, improving their teaching, and exemplifying authentic learning. Gonzalez helps people new to the network to understand that collaboration is key: seeing and working within the styles of other teachers can help to push the envelope.

“I think that we have an opportunity to model what education can be: this 20th century manufacturing-line model doesn’t work anymore. I think that the Leadership School Network schools have that opportunity to show what is possible. The network is a jewel in this city. I can tell you, as a teacher, young people are moving further ahead of what the education model is, and that’s why we need that innovation.”

Gonzalez is filled with light when he talks about teaching. It is hard not to be motivated by his open-mindedness, and the way he talks about teaching as an evolving art form, and something to be perfected. He, himself, offers his authenticity to the classroom.

“We’re not teaching to a test, we’re teaching students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. We’re teaching them to do something right now, and not wait around until they’re college graduates.”

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