Why I Teach, Where I Teach

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Charles Hart Middle School, Washington, D.C.

Education reforms has truly damaged our ability to understand how chronic poverty affects a student’s ability to learn. Although I can agree with the underlying premise of Rhee’s rhetoric – poverty should not be an excuse to setting high expectations for students – I can’t help but feel frustrated with how that slogan has hijacked any reasonable discussion surrounding the negative effects of childhood poverty. As much as the twitter-verse is filled with anti-Rhee tweets and articles, this will not be one of them. Instead, I rather take time to explain why I teach, where I teach.

Despite the scientific fact that chronic poverty consumes a student’s mental endurance, I spend countless hours planning and designing lessons in order to maximize each student’s understanding. I spend countless hours planning and designing lessons in order to extract as much mental attention as physically possible from each, and every, student. Anything short of that is unacceptable. This is why I teach, where I teach.

Despite the scientific fact that chronic poverty can influence low-income students to misbehave during class time, I spend countless hours finding ways to prevent such outbursts. In addition, I’m always seeking new ways to cool off, so I don’t take any insults personally. I always try to remember that the student has to be taught HOW to channel his or her pain and frustrations. Everyday is an opportunity to make, and sustain, a personal connection. It is not the student’s fault that he or she has to cope with chronic poverty. It is my fault, however, if I fail to find a way to reach past his or her circumstance. Anything short of that is unacceptable. This is why I teach, where I teach.

Despite the scientific fact that chronic poverty can cause a student to perform poorly on a once a year high-stakes test, I make sure to take the time to support each student, regardless of his or her educational – and impersonal – labels, such as “below basic” or “basic”. Their score, or label, is not a reflection of their worth. Regardless of their score, it is my duty to remind them that they are advanced in being resilient in life. Anything short of that is unacceptable. This is why I teach, where I teach.

Despite the scientific fact that chronic poverty can make a student feel worthless, I make sure they are aware of the real reason why I show up everyday – because of them. I remind them that I proudly choose to work in their school. I don’t for a paycheck, merit pay or the possibility of a bonus. I show up because of them. Anything short of that is unacceptable. This is why I teach, where I teach.

Despite the damage the “No Excuses” slogan has caused, I proudly choose to work with students from low-income communities. Anyone can walk into an affluent neighborhood school and teach students that have never shown up to school hungry or disheveled. Please don’t be confused. Not everyone has the mettle, the fortitude, and the mental make-up to walk into a low SES public school classroom, every single day.  Rather than cast dispersions, insults or judgments, education reform “experts” should either walk in my shoes or cease claiming to speak on behalf of my students. Please don’t make your career on the backs of teachers that dedicate their lives to this challenging environment. I can assure you that anyone can throw mortars from 40 yards out, but few people actually have the courage to stand face-to-face with chronic poverty, and dare it to claim another student. Anything short of that is unacceptable. This is why I teach, where I teach.

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