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The debate over improving public schools too often leaves out the people who teach in the classroom, Alfonso Correa said.
Correa teaches AP English and composition at Dallas’ School for the Talented and Gifted at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center in Oak Cliff. A magnet school, TAG is consistently rated among the top public high schools in the nation.
“A lot of these discussions about policies and education reform almost always exclude teachers,” Correa said. “Over the last five to 10 years, this huge reform movement has focused on standardization and data.”
Correa, 46, wants to shift attention back to teachers.
“Instruction” he said, “is for putting together a piece of furniture. Teaching is a far more complex concept that no business model can approach.”
He will speak at the Dallas Festival of Ideas on Feb. 27-28 in the Arts District.
Correa recalled attending the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2007 and watching another education reform panel made up of two Bush administration officials, along with the father of Bill Gates.
“I remember sitting in the audience feeling aghast,” he said. “They were talking in a vacuum about education. They had no perspective about what happens in the classroom. It was totally abstract.”
Classrooms aren’t an abstraction and teachers don’t work in a vacuum, Correa said. They have to connect with their students, and that happens by understanding them.
In the Dallas school district, where nearly 70 percent of the students are Hispanic and many come from new immigrant families, Correa’s background helps him in the classroom.
He grew up in Brownsville and as a first-generation Mexican-American, he spoke English and Spanish. His mother was from the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico, and she raised him with help from his aunt and grandmother.
“The border was nothing at all like it is now,” Correa said. “You could go back and forth easily.”
He still remembers his band teacher as a role model. “I definitely see his no-nonsense style in my approach,” Correa said. “He got great results with a ragtag bunch that turned the band program around into a well-respected, fearsome group.”
Ranked in the top 5 percent of his high school class, Correa wanted to attend the University of Texas at Austin. But his family couldn’t afford the tuition, and he had no idea he was eligible for a scholarship. There was a community college in town, but he didn’t want to live at home. He decided to enlist in the military for the education benefits.
He joined the Navy in 1986 and completed his stint in 1990. He spent those four years assigned to the submarine force and spent his shore leave going to museums and other cultural attractions in places such as Hong Kong and Japan.
“I was part of a little group called the ‘Nerd Herd,’” he said. “Our deal was, ‘We’re in the Far East. Are we ever going to be back here? Probably not.’”
Matured by his time in the Navy, he became more serious about going to college. He returned to his hometown and enrolled in the University of Texas at Brownsville, a campus that had just opened.
He majored in English with a minor in history and an eye toward a career in teaching. An English professor left a lasting impact, teaching him that literature was not just about artistry but also about culture and society.
After his 1996 graduation, he thought he had lined up a teaching job in Brownsville. But when it fell through, a friend who knew someone in the personnel office of the Dallas school district suggested he try there.
As luck would have it, the massive Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center had opened the year before with six magnet programs, including the School for the Talented and Gifted. Correa got an interview with the late Dr. H.B. Bell, executive principal of the Townview campus, and was offered a position the same day. “It was just this whirlwind thing,” he said.
Correa is now in his 19th year of teaching. He has also taught African-American studies, Latin American studies and Senior Thesis.
He said he was influenced by Louise Cowan, who started the Teachers Academy at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture.
He serves on numerous local and national education committees, including the committee that helps put together questions for the AP English Language and Composition exam. He is also on an advisory board at the Teachers Academy, which runs a summer enrichment class.
He and his wife have three children ages 11, 9 and 4, and his approach to teaching is similar to parenting: Treat each child as an individual.
Even well-intentioned ideas, such as using a best-practices approach to training teachers, are flawed, Correa said.
“The proposition is, all you have to do is observe and talk to really effective teachers and take what they’re doing and teach others to do that thing,” he says. “That’s Teachers often missing from debate over school reform | Dallas Morning News: