Some of the students with the longest odds are those who you impact the most as a teacher.
I moved to the border of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma from San Diego, CA at the very beginning of the 8th grade into a low socioeconomic neighborhood. The closest middle school to the area I moved was comprised of a melting pot of students, 94% of whom received free and reduced lunch as of 2012. Not long after moving into the neighborhood, I befriended a kid by the name of Sedarious. Sedarious and I began a friendship that grew as we spent countless hour playing basketball in my Uncle’s driveway or throwing a football in the yard. While spending time with Sedarious, he told me that there many of the kids who attended Webster that were in gangs and that it was not uncommon to find drugs at school.
While Sedarious wound up attending one of the lowest performing middle schools in the district, I had the chance to spend most of my 8th grade year at the best magnet middle school in Oklahoma City. Belle Isle Enterprise Middle School is a school that offered classes where students could receive High School credit, and even Latin. However, I didn’t finish the year at that school because I moved out of district and into a surrounding area. I never understood why I had the chance to attend a magnet school while he had to attend low performing middle school. I now realize that I had the chance to attend such a great school because my cousin attended the school and my Uncle vouched for me as an involved parent. When I was a Junior in college, my sister told me she ran into him and he told her that he had been in and out of jail for drugs and he never finished high school.
As I began my first year of teaching at Jefferson Middle School, a school 2.5 miles from the school that I had not lived far from as a teen, I thought about Sedarious and how similar we were as kids, as well as others that I used to know like him and I felt indignant. Why did I make it to college and graduate with a degree and honors, when he wound up in and out of jail? I had been on food stamps, been homeless, moved 3 times in 1 year, had an alcoholic father, and no one in my family had ever been to college. Belle Isle was simply a pathway to opportunity. It gave me a taste of what rigorous education and a great learning environment was like. It by no means was the reason for me succeeding, but it gave me a clearer picture of a good education. I now realize the reason for my success is not a school or an individual, but rather a group of people such as my 11th grade math teacher, Mr. Britt, my 12th grade Honors English teacher, Mrs. Hunt, and my 7th Grade AVID teacher, Mrs. Perez.
Everyday that I have walked the halls of Jefferson Middle School I encountered students just like Sedarious and myself. Those kids who want to strive for better, but have a hard time overcoming a litany of issues including: high mobility rate, parents in jail, homelessness, substance abuse, and a Spanish-English language barrier. I often times feel guilty because I was lucky enough to attain a college degree and not become another casualty of the broken education system. Knowing what is at stake for our kids because I have been in their shoes is why I have chosen to do this advocate for our students. I am but one of thousands of teachers who are too tired to wake up, but I force myself out of bed for morning tutoring I am motivated by what is at stake. And what is at stake is a shot at going to college, for some of them a shot at breaking the cycle of poverty, and for others a chance to love learning.
As I sat down to right this blog, I realized that what our kids need is not a Savior or someone to carry the burden of whether or not they succeed on their shoulders, they need a village of people and we are a part of that village that these students. We can’t carry that burden alone because when we carry that burden alone it can crush us. When I attempt to carry that weight on my shoulders many times it has crushed me, almost to the point of walking out of the classroom or even the brink of tears. I’ve felt disillusioned at various points as I know many teachers have when a student says, “I’m just going to drop out anyways.” Or when they show you complete and utter disrespect by pretending that they can’t hear your “explicit directions”. Even on the worst days, I have a moment or a glimmer of hope knowing the full potential of our students. My story is just one drop in the bucket when compared to countless similar stories like my own. To all teachers and advocates for our students, I want you to know that:
We are making a difference. You are making a difference. As I close I want to echo the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in reference to our fight for our students success.