I beg your indulgence and forgiveness as I step away from my usual topics and post about my other life…my passion for teaching.
Teaching has not been a fun place to be in recent years. Don’t get me wrong…I love it and truly cannot imagine doing anything else with my life. But the public narrative has become one that vilifies all teachers and makes us out to be incompetent, greedy, lazy, and almost criminally negligent. I hope that most of you know this cannot be farther from the truth.
In this video, Joshua Katz eloquently gives voice to the frustration that I hear every day in the teachers’ lounge. Frustration that America has handed our public schools over to testing companies and for-profit charter schools while simultaneously attempting to completely sweep the far-reaching effects of poverty under the rug. Poverty is too vast a problem, too fearsome to overcome. Blaming the teachers is all too easy.
I teach one block north of the border of one of the poorest cities in the nation. 100% of the students in my school receive free or reduced lunch. Poverty is part of the daily routine of my life. I am knee-deep in it every day and I see its realities, not the “welfare queen” myth of poverty that abounds among my suburban, middle class neighbors.
My school is a failing school. By virtue of working there, I am a failing teacher. I must be incompetent, sayeth the pundits.
I want to give you a glimpse of one of my failures. This week, a 5th grade boy sat in front of me taking his end of year reading tests. He’s a great kid. Poor. African-American. Learning Disabled. Untreated attention deficit disorder. He’s funny and quirky and steals paper clips off my desk. You can’t help but like him. He started this year reading at a very beginning second grade level. He could read 22 words per minute. (For you non-teachers, it is expected that 5th graders will read 150 words per minute).
This morning, he tested out at a mid-third grade level. He begged me to test him on the next higher book. “Please, Mrs. Smith, I know I can do it!” I handed him the next book and he was daunted by how long it was. “This looks really hard.” I told him it was up to him…he didn’t have to try it. He thought about it and told me he thought he could do it. And do it he did. He passed that next level. And read 72 words per minute.
I wish you could have seen the gleam in his eye. That boy was so proud of himself…he ran off to tell all of the other staff members who work with him. He positively beamed.
At a 3rd grade reading level, that boy is still a failing student in the eyes of the powers that be. He sure doesn’t think of himself that way! I am still a failing teacher.
And I have never in my life been more proud to be one.