Education Opinion

This is for Ralph

By Jessica Shyu — August 31, 2008 2 min read
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Anyone who says teachers who believe in closing the achievement gap are unrealistic idealists can only possibly be talking about teachers who have never spent a day teaching in a high-needs school in some of our country’s most under-resourced communities.

Because no one walks out of our schools without a beating by reality. Within their first days of teaching in DC’s public schools, my 17 first-year special education teachers have swallowed their share of reality.

Most had no schedules or caseloads, and for many, IEP files are nowhere to be found. Others have met colleagues who do not believe in our students’ ability to learn. Several inclusion English teachers found themselves suddenly lead teaching science courses because of under-staffing. Many teachers haven’t seen a textbook and don’t have enough desks for their ever-growing classes. And others have quickly realized that “going to the office” doesn’t mean much when the administrative assistant returns students straight back to class. This is the reality that they will work creatively around.

But the coldest reality is being a part of the lives of our children, as opposed to just reading about it in newspapers or textbooks. On the second day of the school year, one student was shot in the leg after leaving school. By the end of the third day, a 17-year-old student that one of my teachers knew, was shot several times and killed after school. She described him as a tough kid who, in the past year, had really turned around and changed his work and attitude. It’s really not fair. Rest in peace, Ralph.

But for every textbook-less class and every Ralph, there things that keep us going. Things like telling your 10th grade resource math class that they made the greatest standardized assessment math gains in the entire school last year. Things like meeting a colleague who takes you under her wing and shares with you her long term plan aligned to grade-level standards. Times like when you teach a seventh grader to subtract with his fingers for the first time in his life. And times when your kindergartener with severe speech delays sings “Good morning, how are you?” on his own with the entire class cheering him on.

Not even the most optimistic and starry-eyed teacher can leave the first week without feeling slightly jaded, very anxious and bitten hard by reality. But no one can walk back in believing in change without the passion of an idealist. Keep up the inspiring work, team.

The opinions expressed in New Terrain are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.