A guest blog from Jason Strzalkowski (aka Mr. StrawCowSki), who teaches American History at McBride Middle School in Belleville, Michigan. Jason is a member of the “Teacher as Change Agent” cohort sponsored by the Michigan Education Association, and created through the Center for Teacher Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University. Nancy Flanagan, the Teacher in a Strange Land, facilitates this group.
I love my job. Really. I get to help kids, all day long.
My district is one where I have many, many children who come to school to get their meals for the day. They navigate poverty, reputation, academics, and self-worth on a daily basis. They doubt themselves; they juggle racism, sexism, and judgment on their clothing, relationships, and their ability to succeed in the world that they’re about to inherit...and I help them navigate all these variables, each and every day.
In my classroom, each kid is cared for, heard, and knows that when they ask a question, no one will laugh at them. They make themselves vulnerable by asking questions that have lain dormant for years, for fear of seeming weak in the face of their peers.
They do all of this because of the hard work I put in developing relationships with these kids in the classroom, in the hallways, choir and band concerts and at their sporting events. I listen to them in hallway conversations and in class, and read their innermost thoughts on writing prompts that help guide them through the writing process, and in growing themselves day by day.
The reason they do all of this, in the end, is because they know that I always have their best interests in mind, and they are safe. What I am teaching them in my US History class will be relevant to their continuing experiences. The lessons I create are there to help them become better people, and lead richer lives. What goes on within my four walls is designed to help them be the best versions of themselves, bar none.
For many students, I am a surrogate parent. I teach them how to address an envelope, tie their ties, have a professional handshake, and even speak to each other respectfully. We work together on giving their lives structure in a chaotic world, on how to say hard things in a kind way, and what’s the best way to chunk up a big project so that it doesn’t overwhelm you. These are just examples of what I’ve done in the last month.
You want me to do this, and society needs me to do this, because these are all things that kids need to be able to do to navigate the professional, adult world that they are going to inherit. Many of the students I work with come to me lacking basic skills that the rest of the world is going to assume they’ve mastered. I help them pick up the slack and get caught up.
At the end of the day, and the end of this missive, I remind you this: None of what I just talked about is on a standardized test. You cannot measure self-esteem, self-worth, or readiness to face the world. You cannot quantify these teachable moments, ever.
The more you try to do this, the more you tell me that my professionalism is equated to the scores that a set of my kids have received on a test that has no relevance to their daily life, the more you demean the battle against poverty, adolescence, and apathy that I fight each day.
I love my job. Really. I just wish more people would see me as being part of the solution, instead of being part of the problem.
The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land 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.