30 September 2013

Walking Wounded

I recently heard a conversation that surprised me. The teachers talked about how college was not for their kids (but maybe community college). One spoke of how he threw away his lessons from the middle class district he taught at before moving...because his new kids just couldn't do them. I listened as they described such abject and overwhelming poverty that their kids couldn't plan for tomorrow...that dreams about the future was a luxury they couldn't afford...because they were too focused on just trying to make it through today. There was an overwhelming sense of hopelessness described for the children these teachers had in their rooms.

But this was not an inner-city school. Not the ghetto. It's a school that might be described as ideal in other ways. Classes have no more than 15 students. There are no drug or gang problems. Nearly all of the students are native English speakers. Little classroom time needs to be spent on management---in fact, things like theft are so non-existent that kids don't even bother to close the doors on their lockers.

What would most teachers do, I wonder, if faced with a classroom where nearly all of the barriers we typically worry about were gone---where you could just go in your room, shut the door, and teach your heart out every day?

I won't marginalize the utterly debilitating effects of poverty---and generational poverty, at that. And I don't think a school will "fix" those ails. Instead, we have to look inside and think about what is within our locus of control during the time those children are in our classrooms. And I have such a hard time hearing adults in schools deciding that kids can't/shouldn't. No college for you. You're too poor and will just drop out anyway. No challenging work for you. Good literature is wasted on those who won't appreciate it. No art for you. You won't do it right or follow my directions.

This bothers me greatly. Students whose future has already been determined before they step inside the classroom are one thing. But the teachers who have given up on these kids is also troublesome. It's as if they are becoming as hopeless about the future as their students. "Wake up!" I want to say while shaking them out of their haze.

I don't know how to change the heartbreaking dynamic here. It weighs on my mind quite a bit. Did you ever have to rededicate yourself to the classroom? How did you do it?

1 comment:

Dan Edwards said...

Change. You cannot stay the same. I cannot teach like I did when I was a stupid new teacher....gads, three decades ago. I believe a teacher has to keep working to bring the best new ideas (and tried and true old stuff) for our students. Change must happen, or what happens ? Extinction of ones passion for teaching. And the kids, regardless of when you are teaching them, see, feel and can experience that passion. And sometimes some of it rubs off on them...