This has been a significant year for me. I am now a NBCT, the majority of my students have met academic growths and measures, and my youngest child got her Learner’s Permit. I have been blessed with the opportunity to sit in the room and collaborate with some of the most influential teachers in our state. I got to know politicians and administrators on a different level and witnessed their drive and passion for education in ways I was not aware of. All of this has added to my personal need to reflect upon my practice as I reaffirm my values and focus as a teacher.
If not now, then when?
If not you, then who?
These are the words that have helped shape my decisions in life and they have been constantly present with me this year. We are all well aware of the inequities in our education system. I do believe that most teachers and administrators are doing the best they can with what they have with right motives. Personally, I have been pushing myself and my peers to address this over ripened issue with two approaches: urgency and effectiveness.
The academic gaps between whites and people of color, and the haves and have nots are increasing. Every day that this continues aids in the building of barriers in the futures of our children. Good intentions and compassion are important, but they are not enough to get them to Harvard. Rectification requires urgency (as in acting now) and effectiveness (as in proven outcomes).
I have to admit. I have felt so many emotions about these issues. As an African American, I was raised with this awareness. Yet, as an instructor faced with the data and the realities, I have had to deal with this afresh and in a new way. I am now in the position to directly impact this issue in my class, community, state, and (yes I dare to say it) nation….and world. What a teacher does in the classroom has a direct effect on the outcomes of the student in front of her/him. Period. Therefore, I have a responsibility to do all I can to close or prevent gaps that keep any of my students from achieving academic proficiency or higher.
A conversation I had with one of my 2nd-grade students recently crystalized how I see myself in this. While learning how to write a bibliography, she came across a university that shared her last name and wanted to learn more about it. A part of her research included learning more about the namesake and what he had done to justify having a university named in his honor.
Me: “How is the research going?”
ST: “Fine. I am learning a lot and I want to learn more but I am having some problems.”
Me: “Problems with what?”
ST: “Problems with some words.” (She said this with a side glance. She entered 1st year as a significantly struggling reader and is now on the cusp of grade level proficiency. I have my students for 3 years, and proficiency or higher is an obtainable goal for this student.)
Me: “Write them out and let’s see what you know.”
She returned with the words written out.
Me: “Ok . Let’s start with this word. Start with what you know.
ST make phonetic sounds: “ab…list…tion…st… ‘o’ can be long or short”
Me: “Put those sounds together part by part. Try them out and decide on what makes sense to you.”
ST sounded it out a few times and came to: “Abolitionist”
Similar process repeated until the student came to the word “benefactor”.
Then, she asked the question that gave me clarity in my role as her teacher:
ST: “What do these words mean?”
We looked them up and during our discussion, I noticed her understanding and appreciation for these words and how they benefit humanity. I also noticed a personal connection with them as her guide and instructor.
We continued to research the university online and she was impressed with their heavy emphasis on science (she is a natural scientist) and global diversity (she is African American and Native American). She decided that this school may be one that served her well as an adult and their shared name was an indicator that she belonged there. This university is one of the best in the nation, a leader in the medical and science fields.
She definitely belonged there.
Her not going would be a disservice to our nation.
With all of her progress, she is still not yet at “Proficient”. Proficiency is not a requirement for success. Yet, as her teacher, I believe it is not my privilege to hope that someone will see her potential and give her a chance. It is my privilege to prepare her as best I can to the levels of proficiency or higher, and award her the option to choose. True choice will help abolish the effects of our societal institutions that are designed to push aside and oppress females and people of color.
My role is to serve as her benefactor by giving her timely and effective instructional help that will eliminate academic gaps in her life. If she continues on her current path, she most likely will enter university with scholarships and under programs targeting minority females in science. Yet, she deserves more than entry. She deserves to enter prepared so that she can thrive…not just survive. Research has shown that the academic outcomes of the 3rd-grade year are an indicator of future academic success. My responsibility to her is to do all I can to ensure that she ends that year on the side of achievement (not just growth).
Benefactor. Abolitionist. Douglass, Tubman, Truth…Wheelington.
Definitions taken from Google Dictionary on 05/15/2019
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