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I Worry About Students Like Me

For a long time now, I've been waiting for a revolution in education.  I'm talking full fledged anarchy, followed by a rebuilding from the ground up.  I'm still waiting.

Today's so called ed reformers toss around words like creativity and innovation, but I worry that this year's "new math" still favors the compliant pleasers  in our classrooms: those students who come to school every day, ask few questions and who figure out, early on, that school is almost always a product over process game.  This, while at the same time, offering few, if any, paths to success for students who don't come to school, who challenge the status-quo, who behave badly and/or who simply don't fit into the rows we create for them.

I worry about these students because I was one of them.  My own school story is one of poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and academic failure.  I know now that, because they were a part of mine, these things were also a part of my teachers' stories.  However, as challenging as school was for me and, conversely, as I was for it, I worry that today's climate of high stakes testing is even more toxic for kids like me.

I often give the credit for the  fact that I even graduated from high school to my 10th grade English teacher - a woman who simply refused to let me fail.  Although I can't remember a single task she assigned me, or even what skill deficits she was determined to fix, I do know that hers was the first classroom where I felt I deserved a place at the learning table. She didn't make me feel like the smartest kid in class, but she made it okay not to be that kid.  To me, this is the saddest part of my story - or at least the part that causes me the most worry- because it makes me wonder about all the other kids whose paths never cross with that teacher. 

Don't get me wrong, there are lots of great teachers out there. I've had to the privilege to work with a host of educators who both inspire and challenge me.  For these teachers, teaching is more than just a passion, it's a calling - in every sense of the word.  And I know that many in this group see teaching, as I do, as the repayment of the debt they owe the person who saved them. But for every great teacher there are countless more students like me.

And I worry about them.


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