January 29, 2013

Teachers Talk Back: Rachel Garfield

Rachel Garfield teaches fourth grade at Ingenium Charter School in Canoga Park, CA. She was on the founding team at both Barack Obama Charter School in Compton and Ingenium Charter School.

Why did you become a teacher?

I did not want to be a teacher. I wanted to be an archaeologist like Indiana Jones. Ultimately, I did my field work in Greece and hated it--too hot and too dirty. I stumbled upon the opportunity to teach English overseas and went to Japan. The first year was very lonely, but I found my calling. Through a rather circuitous path, I found teaching and I consider myself lucky!

What inspired you to start a new school?

I was asked to help start a new school in Compton and I was interested in taking on a new challenge. I had just read Rich DeLorenzo’s Delivering on the Promise and was struck by his innovative perspective on education. Rich had been a special education teacher in Alaska. He argued that individualized and student-centered instruction benefits all students. The resonances with my own teaching philosophy were striking, and so I was sold on the new school.

What is the most rewarding component of starting a new school?

We are getting noticed! People are coming from as far as Illinois to observe our model and replicate it at their school. We are at the ground level of education reform and we are making a difference daily. This creates a profound sense of purpose and inspires all of us.

What is most challenging?

The most daunting task is the proverbial circle—not knowing what we don’t know. A new school is a beautiful abyss of potential and constant learning and course corrections. The upside is there is a lot of fertile ground for innovation and ingenuity. It’s refreshing to be a position to create.

How did you overcome those challenges?

The fact that we are not a top down system and allow all stakeholders to contribute to the discourse means a solutions-oriented environment where failure is okay, and even expected. We really do embrace the notion that lack of failure really translates into a lack of trying, of pushing boundaries. As a school aimed at transforming education, we know that courage is integral.

Why are did you decide to join E4E?

The E4E mission is aligned with our goals: professionalizing education. The only way we are going to do the best for our students is by attracting and retaining the best people. Teaching can be a very isolating profession – each classroom is its own island. Bringing teachers together is not only motivating, it’s absolutely imperative.