Fishman Prize Essays On Poverty

The Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice recognizes 100 inspiring public school teachers each year, and celebrates four winners who are making a profound difference for their students and schools. Winners participate in a thought-provoking summer residency with their peers, reflecting and writing about the issues facing their profession—and how they’re tackling them in their classrooms. Each winner also receives a $25,000 award.

In Lift Every Voice: Teachers on Harnessing the Power of Students, Parents, and Communities in the Classroom, the 2016 winners reflect on the relationships they build with students, families, and communities—and how those relationships inform what and how they teach. From New York City to rural Louisiana, these teachers are united by their belief that strong relationships produce stronger results in the classroom.

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The Fishman Prize essays are windows into classrooms where lives are changing every day. We're hoping this year they can also be the start of a conversation about how classrooms become places where lives are changed.

We want to hear from you: How have relationships made your school a better place to learn?

Eric Hale had a bachelor’s degree from Wright State University, a family, and a well-paying job in Healthcare Management. But it wasn’t enough. “I wasn't blessed to make it from where people aren't supposed to make it, just to be middle‑class and not give back,” he says. “That wasn't my purpose.”
 
Eric grew up in extreme poverty in Phoenix and had to work hard to achieve his successes. He decided his calling was giving back to students who grew up in similar conditions as he did and went through Texas Teachers, an alternative certification program, to become a first-grade teacher in Dallas. Upon entering the classroom, Eric had the energy and passion for the job, but lacked the content knowledge needed to do it well. Determined to be the teacher his students deserved, he focused on improving his instruction.

He learned how to break each math and science concept into small morsels for his kids to digest. In class, he had them work on fewer problems, but go deeper into each one and use alternative methods to reach the same answer. He learned what to do if a lesson doesn’t go as planned—if students aren’t quite getting something, or if they breeze through a day’s lesson. “I’m prepared,” says Eric, who received his Master’s degree in education last year. “I always know what I’m going to be teaching next.”

Eric’s efforts to grow as a teacher have paid off. In 2015, he was named a Distinguished Teacher for ranking in the top one percent in district-wide teacher performance. This year—his first teaching third-grade math and science after five years of teaching first grade—more than half of his students entered behind grade level. On a recent mid-year assessment they scored 35 percent higher in math than the previous year’s third-grade class, and 40 percent higher in science.

In addition to leading his students to great academic outcomes and incorporating joy into his lessons—he’s been known to do a bit of dancing in class—Eric enjoys the responsibility of serving as a role model to his kids. “Students look up to him as a mentor and person who inspires them to have grit, and put forth the effort and achieve,” says his principal.  

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