E4E Teachers Talk Back: Phil Gerlach
Phil Gerlach has been an English teacher for 15 years and is currently teaching 8th grade ELA at Markham Middle School. He is also a member of E4E - LA’s Teacher Advisory Board.
Why did you choose to become an educator?
I was actually on track to become a preacher and moved to Boston for seminary. After beginning seminary, I questioned my decision to become a preacher, and a friend recommended teaching. After I thought about it, teaching felt like a natural fit; I enjoyed working with children and education has always been important to my family.
What inspires you to stay in the classroom?
I am inspired when I see my students achieve. I always love seeing them fulfill their goals and seeing their hard work come to fruition. They know I am proud of them but they also know that I expect them to be successful. What troubles me are those kids that I am unable to reach - it keeps me up at night.
How are you a leader within your school?
Throughout my career as an educator I have had some amazing role models who taught me that good leadership is about having vision. In a prior school, I became the lead teacher for the Ninth Grade Academy. I was in charge of directing and supporting 30 teachers in the instruction of 950 ninth-graders. When I began teaching at Markham MS, I wanted to bring my insight from that leadership experience. I help to introduce the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (M.E.S.A.) program for students, which exposes students to math and science opportunities. This summer, I was elected the 8th grade lead teacher and I’m a member of the Bill & Melinda Gates Teacher Advisory Council.
Why did you become a leader and member of E4E?
The budget cuts really made me reevaluate my priorities and think about what is most important in education. The volume in the conversations about what is best for our students is rising, and I want to be a part of those discussions. There are answers to these issues, but we have to work together to find them. Everyone I meet through E4E is articulate and thoughtful and E4E offers a way to work with others to find answers to these challenging questions facing the education system today.
Why do we need teachers to be leaders and advocates for change?
There are too many people that work outside of the classroom making decisions and judgments about education. In my estimation, teachers have received an unfair amount of criticism and blame. To me, many outsiders lack perspective about our classrooms. Teaching is extremely difficult and I sincerely believe that classroom teachers bring the best insight on how to solve some of the complex issues we face. Through organizations like E4E, I hope that we can raise our voices for positive change. If we come together with open minds, I believe we can improve education in America.