A Letter To Teachers

As a student, a mother, and a teacher, I have always believed that excellent teaching matters more than anything else that happens in a school. It is so inspiring to be in the presence of an amazing teacher. I love watching a teacher light up about a subject, I love watching teachers push students to do the hard thinking for themselves, and I love watching and learning from the individual style of each teacher. It is teachers who make a school great.

My favorite book in graduate school was Ken Macrorie’s A Vulnerable Teacher. Macrorie describes a teacher who taught “by love more than anything else. He was so much in love with English literature and with being a teacher. Everyone worked for him to the maximum of his capacity. One couldn't let him down.”

Schools need teachers who teach “by love” – love for their subject, love for their students, love for the sacred work of shaping minds and nurturing souls. But teachers can only flourish in schools that take teaching very seriously – schools that respect and support them.

When we began Harlem Village Academies, the common approach to education reform was to create a “school design” and impose it on teachers. We took a different approach: we set out to thoughtfully design a school for teachers. We designed every aspect of our schools to develop teachers, to support their best work, and to challenge them to keep getting better. We deliberately set out to foster a rich intellectual life and to create an environment in which teachers are treated as professionals, trusted to make critical pedagogical decisions and held accountable for student learning.

I see teachers as scholars, and I believe it is essential for schools to provide teachers with opportunities to collaborate, to learn from each other, to talk deeply with each other – about instruction, about students, and about how we can continually improve our schools. All that we've accomplished has been created by our teachers.

I want our schools to inspire our teachers to fall in love with teaching again and again each year.


Dr. Deborah Kenny was the founding principal of the flagship Harlem Village Academy. She is the Chief Executive Officer of Harlem Village Academies and author of Born to Rise: A Story of Children and Teachers Reaching Their Highest Potential.