Does anyone else get tired of being told that “you’re young, you’re just idealistic, you’ll grow out of it, don’t worry”??? There is nothing like being told you’re “idealistic” to make you feel like a 11-year-old caught wearing lipstick. (Which I used to do, stolen from my mom’s make-up drawer, applied on the bus on the way to school.)
Over the weekend, I fell into a heated discussion with my boyfriend and a friend over the feasibility of turning around some of the country’s most under-performing and unsafe schools. They argued that part of the reason the schools would never improve is because the community would need to change first and that the lack of parent involvement and resources would make it near impossible. Our friend told us of his tenured teacher friends in New York City who boast of not doing anything for their students because they’re so bad and dumb anyway-- it’s significant gains when they don’t kill anyone by May.
Now, it’s not that I’m so starry-eyed that I truly believe all under-performing schools will magically improve with some positive thinking and nice hope. No, it takes tons of work. It takes restructuring staff. It takes far more time than an 8-hour work day to start involving parents. It takes serious shifts in systems. But what I’m saying and truly believing is that it’s possible. I’ve met 22-year-old teachers smaller in stature than me whip high schoolers in the Bronx into shape and pass the Regents tests. I’ve been to violent and under-performing schools in Albuquerque (not the most lethal city out there, but a rough school is a rough school) and saw the kind of impact that the principal and instructional coaches’ restructuring had on the students’ performance and retention rate in teachers (no teachers have left in over three years).
It’s not easy. There’s a baffling amount that’s screwed up right now. And I’ve only been in the business for two and a half years. Even if we put all our best effort and thinking and happy thoughts into it, it’ll still take many years and lots and lots of money. But if I wasn’t idealistic about it being possible to close the achievement gap, I don’t know if I’d have the energy to wake up for work everyday. So to that end, I hope to someday be older, wiser and never growing out of the kind of idealism that gets things done.
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