This week was one of those up and down kind of weeks- the kind where I simultaneously love my job and yet question why in the heck I want to keep doing it.
First, two really touching stories. Yesterday, we had International Day in my class. The kids were invited to bring in food from their culture, and they shared about what they brought and why it was special to them. While they ate the food, they colored a flag from a country different from their own. It was fabulous! I had about 6 parents come to help during the actual party, and they just loved it. They helped me pass out food, made sure all the kids were happy, and helped me clean up at the end. I was blown away by their generosity. There was so much food that we couldn’t possibly eat it all! I couldn’t believe how much food the kids stuffed into their tiny bodies. It was really cool how they were so respectful of each other and the new dishes they tried. The families who brought in food also gave us the recipes, which I will copy into a class cookbook for everyone. I know that this is the kind of thing the kids will remember when they look back on second grade, and this is the kind of thing that really makes me love teaching.
This week was report card week, which means we had short days to give us time to fill them out. I used those short days to have conferences with the families of my students who currently aren’t on track to meet their Big Goal at the end of the year. One of those students is A, who has actually made quite remarkable progress so far. The problem is that he started so far behind that he needs to work extremely hard the rest of the year to even be close to ready for third grade. Admittedly, he has moved from a completely non-function to a semi-functional state in my class. (For example, at the beginning of the year, his writing was nonsense. He didn’t know to write vowels in his words. So, the word like would be written lk. Now, his phonetic spelling at least includes vowels: lik, which is definitely a huge step in the right direction.) He came to his conference with his mom, and through the translator I explained that without some serious hard work on all three of our parts, A wouldn’t be ready for third grade. I told them I believed that A could do it, but that he would need to be in intervention for the rest of the year. The next day, after intervention, I walked A down the hall.
A: I’m scared to go to third grade!
Me: Why is that?
A: Because I’m not ready for it!
Me: You’re not ready for it yet. But, we’ve got plenty of time left here in second grade. And I promise you that I will not let you leave my classroom in June without being ready for third grade. Think of all the progress you’ve made so far! We just need to keep working hard.
I could tell he was still feeling apprehensive, so I made sure to point out to him progress that he’s made in class that day. The last thing he needs is to lose his “I Can” right about now.
When I think about A and the other kids in my class like him, I feel inspired to work harder than I already am. I can’t let them down. A deserves to learn how to read. It isn’t his fault that he went to a crappy school last year. It isn’t his fault that nobody in his family can help him at home because nobody in his family can read in English. He didn’t ask to be put in this situation, and neither did the rest of them. That’s the kind of thinking that makes me want to teach forever.
But then, on the other hand, I’m stuck in a place that is mired in mediocrity. Whenever I start to feel like I’m really making a difference, something else happens that pushes me back. Whether it’s another ridiculous bureaucratic request from the district, a last-minute time-wasting edict from the principal, or the mountains of benchmark and unit tests I must give to my students, there is always something that prevents real, meaningful change. I have come to the conclusion that unless there is sweeping leadership change at all levels, a district that is as badly mismanaged as mine will never be a great school district. And that is the kind of thinking that makes me want to get the heck out of my classroom and try to attack this problem from another angle.