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Models of Success

Marva Collins: The Outstanding Educational Reformer, Part 1 of 2

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Today is World Teachers’ Day, an international event launched by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1994. To celebrate this special day, we reflect on one distinguished educator’s story. Marva Collins became internationally renowned for developing her own educational methods and empowering her students. She has written books and manuals describing her history and methodology. The 1981 biographical TV movie entitled “The Marva Collins Story,” starring Cicely Tyson and Morgan Freeman, was released as a tribute to her success.

Although she had no teaching certificate, Mrs. Collins was hired to teach second grade in public schools in Chicago as a full-time substitute teacher for 14 years. Through her experiences in that teaching system, Mrs. Collins found that the quality of education her own children were receiving deserved to be better. She was dissatisfied with its unfavorable treatment and attitude toward impoverished inner-city students. Marva Collins disregarded the Board of Education’s teaching guide and trusted her own experience. Rather than going by the public schools’ methods, which used books with pictures and dull workbooks, she developed her own teaching methods that truly worked, using phonics to teach reading and adding literary classics and poetry into the curriculum. Mrs. Collins facilitated discussions of the readings and had students memorize poetry. She used positive methods of discipline to address misconducts.

“It’s always the children are the big ‘YOU’s’ and we are all the little ‘I’s.’ The teachers are not the big ‘I’s’ in our school. No teacher in our school has a desk. We do not have a chair nor a teacher’s desk. We walk all day. We serve the children. We find something positive to say about a child every morning: ‘I like your gym shoes. I like your ribbon. I like your blue jeans.’ We find something to say good to a child every morning. That’s just as important as the curriculum.”
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