Being a first year teacher essentially swallowed my life. I thought I’d have all sorts of creative things to share, but I just had a lot of “tired,” a lot of “frustrated,” a lot of “overwhelmed.”
I’ve seen the belly of the beast: a title one school, one of the statistically worst in the country- kids whose parents are incarcerated, homeless kids, kids in foster care, kids passing through for a few weeks on their way somewhere else, kids who only have guaranteed meals at school…and of course kids with all varieties of more conventional families.
They all think their lives are normal, and for them they are. Even though 98% of my kids get free lunch- they don’t consider themselves poor. Even though 85% of my kids are reading far below grade level- they consider themselves average or above average. Even though many of them are in 8th grade but on their 4th or 5th year of middle school- they consider that a regular feature of school. And for this community, I guess it is.
It’s been a year where I’ve had to really think hard about my lenses, my norms, my perceptions. When another new teacher asked the question I’d been thinking, “Why are we making such a big deal of 8th grade prom and 8th grade graduation?” – the answer surprised me. Many of our kids won’t graduate. I googled the rates for the neighboring high school and it’s under 50%…but only about 35% of boys.
Suddenly my student nonchalantly running out the clock on his 5th year of middle school with an eye toward his 16th birthday makes…I hesitate to say “sense” but I guess I now know why.
Teach for America asks us all to view ourselves as empowered agents of change. It’s hard to imagine the three of us in my school turning around the culture of a whole community…it was hard enough (and I’m not saying I’ve been successful) just trying to create a culture in my classroom where high school graduation is an expectation and college is an attainable goal. Some days, just getting through a lesson while fighting the constant battle against behavior issues felt Sisyphean…
But…next year is a new year…there are just a few weeks left…and for now, I have bees and a garden to meditate on.