E4E-NY Teachers Talk Back: Carl Carpenter
Carl teaches second through fifth grade ESL at PS 325 in Upper Manhattan. He is a member of the Pay Structure policy team.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I was in large part inspired to become a teacher by my parents, who are both educators. They’ve worked at public high schools in Minnesota for the last 30 years and are both still working. I’m also interested in a lot of the policy reform that’s going on right now around education and how seriously people have begun to treat the achievement gap, which is something I only came to learn more about in the last couple of years.
Other than that, I like to hang out with kids, because I think I have a similar sense of humor to the third through fifth graders I work with, so I generally have a lot of fun at work. That’s another major part of it!
How do you see the achievement gap playing out at your school, and what do you think a teacher’s role is in doing something about that?
I have a lot of students that I work with personally and that are in the school who were held over or are reading below their grade level. Most of the ELL population that I service as an ESL teacher, grades 2-5, are reading at least a couple of years below grade level. And so what do educators need to do to take on this enormous problem? I think a lot of it has to do with individual ownership, and it’s so hard to quantify or understand exactly what you should be doing but every added amount of effort you put into making yourself better as an educator will pay off dramatically for the students.
It sounds like your kids really keep you going. Can you talk in more detail about what you love about your students?
All of students are coming from homes that qualify them for a free lunch, and many of them are living below the poverty line or pretty close to it, and they’re in a community where a lot of their peers just above their age group have dropped out of school. To see the amount of resilience in their personalities and how much fun they are to be around in spite of these systemic challenges is very uplifting. They’re incredibly creative, and that’s something I try to cultivate in them as a means to get them to read and write more. I try to encourage them to write creatively, whether it’s a song or poem or rap or story, and the same hold true for reading. They give me outlandish requests about what they want to read about, but if it’s going to get them to read on their own time, I’ll find them something on the Internet or write something myself for them to try and instill in them that they can learn independently.
How did you get involved with E4E and what has that experience been like?
I spoke with someone on staff at an event last summer, and I was very taken with the ability of E4E to put a voice into different debates without aligning itself with one of the two major “sides.” I hadn’t been able to find a place for myself in that dualistic vision of the debates you hear on the most important issues. I like reading and learning about them, but I discovered a way to personally involve myself in the issues E4E advocates for.
We’ve been talking a lot about the idea of a “rational middle.” What do you think a rational middle could look like in teaching and why is that important to you?
I think a rational middle is a voice that very clearly articulates the stance someone would take if they were actually putting the considerations of adults behind the children. That was one of the most shocking things to me when I started teaching was how consistently grownups’ concerns and fears, however trivial, overtake the overall plight of children. If there was a way to get that perspective out and widely accepted, it would be harder for people to stand behind decisions that were based on what’s good for adults.