Keeping the faith

I work in a Title 1 public school with a predominantly Black population. Our current goal is for something like 55% of the school to score “Proficient” on this year’s state exams. This means that we admit that almost half of the kids are not at grade reading level. However, each grade presents materials that are presumably at grade level. As I scan the various ELA classes across our school it dawns on me that so many kids have no idea what’s going on in the books that are being read in class. No wonder there are so many behavior problems (which are for another discussion).

As a special education teacher, I’ve had to accept the unfortunate fact that no matter what I do, I will not get the majority of my students to be academically successful; i.e. able to demonstrate proficiency at their present grade level. Even with this knowledge, I still leave work many days feeling like a failure.

The cold hard truth is that the root causes for the gaps in academic performance and proficiency have little to do with what happens on the school campus. So many factors come into play that are, at their core, the impacts of poverty. Leading education pundit Diane Ravitch has said that if you want to close the so-called achievement gap, you need to address poverty. Poverty leads to a lack of access to things like good health care and sustainable jobs as well as an increase in the day-to-day stresses in the home that cause kids to come to school traumatized and shell-shocked. All in all, it’s not a good foundation for sucess.

For these kids at the bottom of the pyramid, it’s really hard to see them make their way up to the top or even the middle because the game is fixed. The outcome of the midterm elections is that the great division in our country is only getting wider. After this week, it looks like the GOP favorite son is a little vile man who seemingly hates everyone who isn’t White or conservative.

I say all of this because this is what enters your classroom every single day. If you show up to work with the intention of saving all the children, you will be severely disillusioned. All you can do is to make your best effort to make a kid better off for having been in your presence. The fact that you wanted to enter this profession means that you have the compassion in you to pull this off. As hard as it is to keep the faith these days, don’t give up because you never know whose life you will be impacting in a positive way.