Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Uncertainties

April 1 marked a significant April Fool’s Day for those in New York State with any interest in public education.  After months of anticipation, rallying, and various attempts to have the voices of parents, students, and teachers heard, our state legislature provided us with quite the April Fool’s joke-massive and potentially destructive education reform.  The biggest problem was, it wasn’t a joke.  While most of our parents, students, and educators were sound asleep, our government decided to change the course of public education in our state.  What this means for me, personally, is an uncertain outlook on the future of public education in New York State.

I was born and raised in New York, by two public school teachers, who eventually pursued and excelled at administration.  I was educated within the New York State public education system from kindergarten until I graduated with honors from high school.  I was and am still very proud of the work my parents did.  They were professional, dedicated, and passionate about their professions.  It was not a “hey, I get the summer off” kind of attitude.  It was an “every day counts for every child” kind of attitude.  I declined to follow in their footsteps, because they worked so hard and while we weren’t poor, I wasn’t sure their efforts were worth the monetary compensation.  If you’ve read my previous blog post about why I became a teacher, you know that has certainly changed (and if you haven’t-go read it now, then come back!). 

I’ve dedicated my adult life to my children.  How many do I have?  Since I was 24, I’ve had 72.  72 young lives have intersected paths with my own in my classroom, and whether there was an instant and effortless bond, or one which was fraught with challenges, I have loved them all.  I’ve taught students who were homeless and bussed back and forth to and from a shelter each day.  I’ve taught students who’ve already had multiple run ins with the law at their young age.  I’ve taught students brimming with knowledge and ideas and supportive families.  Again, I’ve loved them all.  They make up my world.  They are what I think about in the morning when I wake up and mentally review what I want them to get out of our day together (knowledge, love, social skills, etc.) and what I think about when I can’t sleep at night, wondering how I will be able to reach the student who seems so unreachable or what book Susie may like to read once she finishes her latest selection.  I teach my students the way I would want my own children to be taught, because for those precious hours we are together each day, they are my children.  They go home to moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas, but for that day, they look to me for safety, guidance, and knowledge, and I take my responsibility for that quite seriously.

I’ve only been teaching 4 years in my own classroom, but was a substitute teacher for several years prior to that while finishing my graduate degrees.  If I didn’t have an inkling about it before, I am certain now that every child is as unique as a snowflake, with their own strengths, challenges, loves, and hates.  Educating these unique little snowflakes requires differentiated and carefully crafted lessons and activities-they won’t all learn in the same way, at the same rate.  Things “click” for some kids when they can have a conversation about it, and for some, they have to be able to hold it in their hands and manipulate it before it makes sense.  I value the opportunities I have to give my students what they need.  I relish that lightbulb that goes off when it all comes together and the student is proud of what they’ve achieved, by learning something new and often complicated.  I hold my students to a high standard, because they are capable of excellence and I refuse to fail them by expecting anything short of that. 

How does any of this relate to the current education reforms?  It makes me fearful for the public education system my future children will enter.  I want my own children to go to school and explore, wonder, learn, and grow, not suffer anxiety and apprehension over which bubble to circle or how their performance impacts someone else.  I want my own children to inherit an education system that values their worth as little growing and developing humans, and sees them as unique individuals, not a number on a paper.  I don’t have the magic answers to these uncertainties in education, nor will I spend time expressing my personal believes on subjects such as state testing, teacher evaluation, etc.  The point of this post is that it isn’t about me, it isn’t about my worth as a teacher, it’s about my children, and it’s about their worth beyond a number on a page.  I am eternally hopeful that someday, my children will await school with a smile, knowing they are loved and valued and learning everything they can.  I am eternally hopeful that several years from now when I have children, that this type of education will still exist.