With all the talk floating around regarding our 'failing' schools, the power is there for each and every parent to ensure their child is getting the best possible education.
My first teaching job was at COPE South, in 2007. Most people outside the Miami school district will have no idea what that is, so I’ll tell you. It’s a school for pregnant girls. Part of the public school system, COPE provided opportunities for pregnant teens and teen parents to finish their high school diploma, while making special accommodation for their unique situation. Put simply, we didn’t punish the girls academically if they had to be out for a month, or miss a day or two for a doctor’s appointment; there was also a nursery on-site and a daycare/preschool. It was a massive learning experience for me, in terms of not judging people. Before I’d started there I, like many, used to have a latent disdain for teenage girls who “spread their legs” and “get themselves knocked up” so young.
But you have to know: it’s not always consensual. If I were to guess, I’d say about half the girls there didn’t consent to anything. And of those who ‘did,’ there is always more to the story. I remember one girl in the sixth grade. Twelve years old, and the father of her baby was a homeless convict her mother had let crash on the couch. There was another girl who, at fourteen, came home pregnant after having gone to a drinking party.
And then, we had “meet the parent” day. This was that day in the school year when the parents of the students came to the school to find out more about the teachers, and what was being covered in class. And this was what struck me the most that year: of all my students in all my classes, I met exactly one parent that day.
And wouldn’t you know, her daughter was my best student? I taught Intensive Math; that’s the class you take when you’re in the tenth grade and your math scores are on the third grade level, and she was always on point. She’d applied for a nursing program at MDC, and just a weeks later, she tested out of my class and started taking more advanced stuff. She eventually got accepted into the program, and moved on with her life.
And her mother was the only one, of all my students, who showed up that day.
With all the talk of Betsy DeVos in the news and the state of our schools, the Department of Education, charters and accountability, vouchers, common core, home-schooling, and so on, and so on, and so on, it never ceases to amaze me that the single, most consistent factor I’ve seen in my ten years as a teacher that’s had the most profound and immense impact on a student’s success, is the one thing no one wants to talk about.
I taught for two years at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach. I want to add, that Blanche Ely was a civil rights leader who’d fought hard to keep the schools in her community open in an era of white-supremacist leadership in Washington who sought to de-fund predominantly black schools, ostensibly to keep minorities uneducated. She’d fought before the Supreme Court, I was told, and won. Remember her; she deserves respect. During my second year, I had both an Honors Algebra 2, and a regular Algebra 2. One night, we had an open house. And do you know, that when the bell rotated in all the parents of the honors students, my classroom was filled? Not only that, but they came equipped – with all manner of questions. In my regular Algebra 2 class, I think I met about two or three.
Another school, another classroom. I’d gotten into a habit of calling parents early to address any concerns, since I’d come into the situation so late in the school year. Then I got a call from a parent. Out of the blue. It was a student’s father; he’d called to check up on how his son was doing, and whether he was behaving himself and turning in his work. I told him the truth: that his son was an A student who gave me no problems and reliably performed above his peers.
And people talk about teacher accountability. To be blunt, I have no problems being held accountable; I do my job. I do my job to the best of my ability, every single day, despite knowing I have to come home to another job to make ends meet. I also understand that my job is to make up for what’s lacking in the home as best I can, to give each and every student as equal a chance to succeed as possible.
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But every time a politician in Tallahassee or Washington vomits out some brainless crap about vouchers, or charters, or common core, or any of that other nonsense, I, along with every other teacher I know, just laugh, SMH.