Confession: I've been struggling with something that has prevented me from blogging. It's this thing I call my white protestant blue collar/middle class guilt.
It all starts with my role as an educator. Currently, I am working on my Masters (less than a year left!) and teaching. However, my studies make me more and more restless especially when I mix that with my actual experience in the classroom. The research I'm working on is fascinating, miserably helpless, and exceedingly existential.
Lets just get a few facts out of the way.
1. The number one indicator of a child's success in school is socioeconomic. Children in poverty tend to do poorly in school while children not in poverty do much better.
I read one study on children's success in school and the ONLY thing that was statistically significant for improving a child in poverty's success was giving their family enough money to over come the poverty line. YEAH. After reading that I was like, wow. My job as an educator closing the achievement gap is pretty useless.
But in all seriousness, maybe all children need are financially stable homes, where they can provide things like FOOD, clothes, school supplies, where families have time to spend together, etc to be successful in school. The research seems to indicate that its the foundation at home that really matters, which honestly makes a lot of sense to me. I've seen too many students with parents who could care less about their child's well being and simultaneously watch the child flounder in an institutionalized academic setting. Why should they care about school when they are denied and rejected at home? If kids cannot get the support and love they need at home, then why can't a school provide the support and love these children need? Why is that so difficult to do?!?
I can't control what happens at home and I'm not expected to control what happens at home, BUT I am expected to close the achievement gap as a teacher and control my classroom. Ok. Let me do my tap dance at the front of the room telling them education is important and the gateway to opportunity (which is mostly true), but is pretty pointless when students are not in a place emotionally to even think about learning. They need the support from home first or at least for me to provide that for them so they can learn. That's a tall order.
You know what I find super ironic about all of this? Is that there's this idea that exists in the great nothing that if only children in poverty worked harder to overcome their poverty then they would. You know, because people choose to be poor and if they didn't want to be poor then they simply wouldn't be and would work harder in education/life/job etc.
But of course it's not as simple as that, the research goes on and on from things like understanding the dynamics of poverty, parenting style, distribution of wealth in schools, caliber of teachers, to skills people need to be successful, to getting a formal education, and so on and so forth. There does not appear to be a concrete answer for getting children in poverty to succeed in school and I'm beginning to think this push for education to solving the problem of poverty is the WRONG place to focus on. Are we maybe covering up a bigger problem? Are we perhaps not confronting something else that might make ourselves uncomfortable? I think we are.
Because at the end of the day we can blame teachers, we can blame the unions, we can blame common core, we can blame the government, we can blame administration, we can make ill informed policy legislation for this education "crisis" the media seems to think we are in. But really, honestly and truly does ANY of that matter? These agendas only matter if we give it power to matter and a lot of people, politicians and all seem to really think this matters. Hell, the general public seems to think education REALLY matters. I can't go any where telling people I'm a teacher without getting people's personal opinions crammed down my throat. I'm not sure I'm buying it, at least the part where education is the number one most important thing for young people.
But where does that leave me?
I do value education, but I value people more and I don't think our education system is not giving the people it serves what they need, which means the education model as a whole will continually fail. But I have no answers. And to be honest, I'm used to that, so I sit here and ruminate. Calculate. Research. Revise. And wait - but I'm not sure what I'm waiting for, perhaps, for politics to play their part or maybe a reaction or a big break. I don't really know.
My co-teacher once said something to me on a day that was particularly awful in the classroom. Her words deeply shook me, as she sighed in exhaustion "they (our students) are so hard to love." She's right. They are so hard to love because they are teenagers and they are messy and crazy. They laugh at strange things and sometimes make poor decisions.
Why aren't more people loving these kids?
They need it.