As regular readers know, I think very highly of Bill Ferriter, writer of The Tempered Radical blog and a colleague in the Teacher Leaders Network.
He’s just written a very thoughtful and honest post titled “Learning from the Met: Great Expectations?” It’s his reflection on the year he spent teaching in a non-suburban school, why he left, and how it connects to a recent survey of teachers from MetLife that show over 50% of teachers questioning whether every student could succeed academically (you can read my thoughts on the MetLife survey here).
Bill concludes his post this way:
Nope. I don’t think every student can succeed academically.
But instead of being the result of unmotivated or incapable children, that’s a direct result of the callous and under-informed approach that policymakers take towards addressing the challenges of students living in high-poverty communities.
Their unwillingness to invest tangible resources—dollars, people and time—equitably instead of equally is evidence of our unwillingness to care for other people’s children as much as we care for our own.
Maybe I’m not the only one who should be ashamed.
I can understand, and agree, with most of what Bill has written in his post.
Except for the part about not believing that every student can succeed academically.
I believe they can. And I also believe that most of my colleagues feel the same way, and it’s a school culture that is supported by our principal, Ted Appel. And it’s that belief which keeps me going.
Many of the students at our inner-city high school have huge challenges — not having a home situation that can provide many educational enrichment activities; lack of health insurance; unstable family life; self-control issues; gangs; English as their second language, etc.
But, though they might have a long list of deficits, they also have many assets — their potential; their life experiences; their resiliency.
Many years ago, I had a conversation with a man who worked with Gandhi in the struggle for Indian independence. He told me, “Larry, the key to Gandhi’s success was that he looked at every problem as an opportunity, not as a pain in the butt.”
Now, I’m not sure that Gandhi would have put it in quite the same way. But I’ve been able to use that pearl of wisdom as a key guide in my life.
I teach in Sacramento’s largest inner-city high school. I experience many of the typical frustrations of any inner-city teacher, and I write about many of them in this blog.
I agree with Richard Rothstein, who writes that we can only narrow, not bridge, the achievement gap without public policies that will impact the problems outside the schoolhouse doors that affect student learning. And there are some days when I come home feeling emotionally-drained and wonder what it might be like teaching at a suburban school. And there are students who — for one reason or another — I am not able to reach during an entire school year, and have hopes that some other teacher will down the line.
But those days and disappointments are more than off-set by the successes I see — the students who had never read a book before and now are doing so regularly; the ones who are able to develop their own capacity for self-control and discipline; the boys and girls (and young men and young women) who go on to college after telling me in ninth-grade that they don’t need to work on their writing because they would never need it as a professional skateboarder or professional basketball player.
As a teacher, I’m a subscriber to what New York Mets pitcher Tug McGraw said in 1973 when the team improbably won the National League pennant (I’m a New York native), “You gotta’ believe!”
(You might want to also read what Renee Moore, another Teacher Leaders Network colleague, writes about the same topic)