Tag Archives: poverty

“fixing” bad schools


Usually headlines like The Secret to Fixing Bad Schools on the New York Times and other establishments are some long winded ideas from people who aren’t teachers, or who look at models that wouldn’t fit the whole country, but every once in a while, an article get it right.


It looked at a typical inner city, diverse, and poor community in Union City, New Jersey. The difference is that the school in question is not private, a lottery choice school, charter, but rather a public elementary school. The school has raised expectations, given oversight to teachers, valued early to late education, and looking at the student as a whole individual who needs cultivating. To some people, this may seem bizarre  dangerous, or unattainable country wide, but that’s wrong.


Already with the influx of teachers nationwide connecting to each other more than any other time in history (blogging, twitter, et al), common core standards being adopted, and a better understanding of what testing does and doesn’t do, schools have never had a greater opportunity to rise. Some of the ideas aren’t new, even perhaps a century old (Dewey), but a growing teacher community can start to adopt these standards together. Expectations need to raise. Critical thinking and higher orders of expression need to be cultivated.


I have been lucky to work in a classroom that gives me such freedom to teach – but still follow standards. It’s by no means a challenge to take the droll textbook and connect it to the lives of the students. Sometimes it’s challenging conceptually for both parties (teaching about slavery, number systems other than base 10, understanding what a hypothesis is and how to form one, determining theme, mood and tone) but the benefits are endless.



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Only you know what to do

Being a teacher is hard work. You’ll work evenings, nights and weekends. The time with the students is too little, the time is too little, the circumstances are too large and energy is something that mostly the students have (sugar + caffeine is a PED that’s necessity in ed).


Which brings me to this, an article from Education Week about staying sane as a teacher. I came up to one of the last lines after reading through the advice — “Only you know what to do.” Advice is tricky as so many people (me included) are set in their ways. There is a difference between teaching and advising (the latter is for the counselors, the former, well…).


The advice in the article is grounded in experience. But one person’s experience is different from another – and so it goes. A lot of what I have been learning in my education program  stresses student data and connecting with other teachers, but the other two points are little more salient.


I once imagined myself, as the author did, going into a school akin to Beirut in the ’70s or Detroit now and being this amazing teacher and changing the world there. I could do that, or I could just teach whatever students I end up with. It doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from, every student, rich or poor, needs the best chance to succeed. I can still make a difference anywhere I go and hopefully make the world a better place.


And on the last point – enjoy being young. I am still young(ish), but I am married now, and within a few years a few kids. I have always found time in the past to enjoy life, even now with school, and school, and school, I still find joy in the little things. I have the energy now to be in an environment that requires that energy (though it will take the aforementioned coffee).


Note: This is probably my most disorganized blog post. But this is a blog, so, yeah.

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Dreams in Poverty

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with the golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams…

– William Butler Yeats

I start with a poem that made me think about my upbringing. I don’t usually reference poetry, it’s not my forte, but this piece has grown on me over the years. I first heard the poem in a movie (Equilibrium) and ever since it hasn’t left my mind. I had mentioned to a group of people, behind tapping feet and shaking hands, the shame of growing up poor. It shouldn’t be shameful. I had a lot of support in those days even though the support came from people who hadn’t graduated from college, even high school. That I became the first in my family to graduate college wasn’t a coincidence, I am sure of that. I know now that I had full support of my parents, teachers, friends and more to go to college (even with its costs) and graduate.

I had this notion that if you are poor, you can get out of it through education. I still think that’s the truth, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. There are so many hurdles when you’re poor. And I’m not just talking about food stamps, it’s true hunger, it’s no power, it’s no home. There’s no support because it’s always a struggle for basic survival. If you’re hungry, cold, sick, there are needs to be met. I never went hungry and we always had a home. Granted, I was ashamed of our home (it has been since torn down and the homes around it to put up condos), my clothes were a mix of hand-me-downs, and the support that I had was great – but it wasn’t a substitute for experience. I’m blessed, and I have to understand that not everyone will have such a situation. I just hope that I can show some empathy with my future students who’s home may be in a state of disarray, whose family may be constantly in transition, who may not know where they will sleep that night, or had none the night before. It will be a struggle, but understanding is a start.

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