I didn’t do everything right as a teacher.
I was young and naive, pompous about my own educational experience, ignorant as a young twenty-something tends to be. My fourth year in the classroom, I moved from the private to the public sector: on a personal level, I needed to figure out whether I was supposed to work in the public school classroom or in a different capacity with students altogether. [The latter won out, and I spent the next eight years as a glorified youth minister of sorts.]
But on the first or second day of school that year, my classroom filled to the gills with fourteen-year-old adolescents. Fluorescent lights hummed above and the not-so-distant sound of the custodial staff’s work space, on the other side of particle board walls, reminded me that this wasn’t your mama’s private school environment. I can’t remember what question I asked my students, but one by one I went up and down the rows: So, who ARE you? What’s your favorite kind of ice cream? What’d you do this summer?
Something like that.
And when it came time for one young boy to speak, he refused. He stared at the white boards in front of him and shook his head vehemently to the left and right.
“I’ll wait for you,” I said, smiling.
“I’m not talking,” he replied.
“Yes, you are. I’ll wait. I’m patient.”
I looked around the room, amused by his antics, eager to get the rest of the students on my side. It was a showdown, teacher to student. I demanded respect. He refused to give it to me. Minutes went by, the second hand ticking incessantly overhead. Finally, the fight ended, likely when I docked him participation points over his refusal to speak.
He transferred out of my class that afternoon, citing me as “too peppy, too happy and too annoying,” so I trust I kept a smile on my face during the entire double dog dare debacle.
There aren’t many stories I remember from my time in the classroom, but I remember that one, mostly. But I don’t remember it because I was in the right. I remember it because in that moment, I failed that student.
Had I not cared so much about being right, about winning the argument, about him showing me the respect I so rightfully thought I deserved, I may have been able to be the teacher he needed me to be. I may have stopped focusing on myself for a moment and instead chosen to look past how he was behaving in that moment.
Now, hear me out: this doesn’t keep me up at night. But I can’t help but wondering how our children are being served.
A couple of weeks ago, Because They Can contacted me to see if I might help spread the word about their mission. Because here’s the thing: every student is different.
The public schools may have served me well, but that doesn’t mean that this school is going to be the best fit for this student, just as this teacher isn’t going to successfully meet the needs of this particular young boy or girl.
They call it the Belief Gap:
This is the gap between what adults believe is possible
and what kids are actually capable of achieving.
And when adults don’t believe in them,
kids stop believing in themselves.
And I don’t know about you, but I want to close the Belief Gap. Even if I no longer stand in front of a classroom, it hits me on a gut level now when and as I trust my older son to the women who teach him three hours a day now.
Because he’s mine.
And the kids who live in our neighborhoods and in our towns, who play Pokemon and hang out at the neighborhood playground and hoard all the tables at the local fro-yo shop after school, they’re ours too.
They matter. Their education matters. Their very lives matter.
So, get informed. Watch this video:
Let your heard be intertwined with something that really matters. Then, be changed. Get involved. And close the belief gap.
This isn’t the usual kind of post I feature, but after watching Dashaun’s story and learning more about the campaign, I knew I needed to speak up. I’d love for it to matter to you as well, so get involved!