Now, I realize that it sounds deflating at times but it is simply the truth. This doesn’t mean we cannot fight for change, but that we must fight with optimism still wet from the harshness of reality. What you must do as a connected and vocal educator is decide how this will effect how you professionally. How you will proceed both in the classroom and in the ever-increasing venue of politics in education. How you will market yourself and, more importantly, your school.
Let me explain.
We're surrounded every day by facts, but they are simply that, facts. Poverty is too high and increasing. There are pockets of our cities and towns wrought with violence and unrest. Our state is plagued by hunger, abuse and too much violence. We lost our NCLB waiver. At the same time however, our communities are filled with spirit and hope, our schools with fresh faces and wide eyes. Our state is filled with passionate citizens that want what’s best for US, not just our affiliation. We have parents, educators and students willing to put forth the extra effort in order to see everyone succeed. Those are also facts, and the most important ones at that.
In the end, a lot of our gripes are about things that are simply useless and oftentimes uncontrollable. This doesn't mean that we discount their affect on what we're trying to do in education; it simply means that we don't focus on them as being the barrier to our overall success. We must find a way to get beyond the true but useless gripes that we all have. Things such as: this child comes from a broken home, or this child comes from a poor family, or the romanticized ‘back in my day’ arguments that we hear from some of our more seasoned teachers. However, this doesn't mean we do not listen to the concerns of those on the front lines, those that are educating the children throughout schools each and every day.
This means that we don't just throw our hands up because the child has no parental support or that child's parents were poor students or that child's brother was a behavior problem. It simply means that we move beyond the uselessness of that being the crux of our main argument to the barrier of student success and arrive at the notion that we can overcome anything.
When we can move beyond that is when the true shift starts and true education also begins. When we can treat each student as if they have the ability to learn an infinite amount of information then we can truly begin to challenge our students based not on their background, but on the abilities that they have as a human being.
Our nation and our world is an ever-changing thing. No matter where you are and no matter who you are, the face of our state, the face of our country, the face of our nation is in constant flux. If this scares you, deters you, intimidates you or makes you think that the students are any less worthy of your attention, or any less able to be successful as a student, then you're in the wrong profession. We must move beyond the romanticized ideals of the suburban 1950s and move into the realistic ideals of the 2000s. This means that our classrooms won’t all be the same color. This means our classrooms won't all be middle-class. And this means our classrooms will be filled with different cultures, different experiences, different languages, different values, different family makeups and different religions. Melting pot anybody?
This must not be the barrier to our school success but must be the catalyst to our school accomplishments. The incredible blend in communities across our state and our nation, when harnessed correctly and positively, can become the fuel for incredible educational experiences that transcend all else. Our students of today don't look like the students of yesterday and may not necessarily act the way that our students from yesterday acted, but in a word, that is useless.
The uselessness of these arguments which are based on the present reality of the situation and so deeply rooted in things that won't change overnight, must flip on it's ear to become the fuel to educate the here and now in their present situation. We must do this in order to lift our students from their circumstances in order to live a reality that they WANT to live, not a reality that they have to live. I think about the times I would tell my students, “be here because you want to be here, not because you have to be here”. In other words, find yourself in a community not because that's the only place that you can be with the skills and abilities that you have, but because that's where you want to be. Do this because you know that place has the things to offer that you feel are good for you or your family, or because you want to give back to the community in which you were raised.
It is true that our nation and our world is in turmoil, but it is totally useless to make that the reasoning behind why you shouldn't try to be the one that changes the world.
We all see that when someone changes the world for good it comes from someone that seemingly everyone knows. They are the face of a nation, the face of a team, the face of an entire society. But I believe the ones that are actually the true catalysts for change for those who truly change the world are oftentimes the “unknowns”. They are the ones that inspire those that don't initially want to do great things. They are the ones that push someone beyond the capacity of their own thinking or understanding; to push that person to transcend their station in life and lift themselves from the world that they thought they would live in forever. And they are the ones that can touch thousand of lives for good throughout their careers.
Oftentimes that is a teacher. Oftentimes that is you.
The next time you find yourself blaming the failures of a student or the failures of school on the characteristics of the students that make up that school, stop yourself. Stop yourself and say this is true, but in the here and now, it's useless to my endeavor and I refuse to allow it to be a barrier to my mission.
We must move beyond the rhetoric, the blame and the anger. We must move to embrace what we have and make that the vehicle to change the world for the better. We must because their future, your future, OUR future depends on it. And its worth it.