A Teacher’s Ramblings: the Two Most Shocking Things I Ever Heard a Teacher Say

I made a mid-career change to become a High School English teacher. I made a mindful decision to teach in an urban school, one that was then and still is now low-performing. Needless to say, my first year as a teacher was a revelation, but most it wasn’t in the classroom I was shocked it was…

1 … in a Teachers’ Meeting

One Wednesday afternoon in September we were looking over standardized test results from the previous five years – not an ‘uplifting’ activity, since the school had been losing ground steadily in that time frame. During our discussion one of the other teachers sought to explain our results by pointing out that our students came to us from Middle School completely underprepared. On first thought that seemed likely to be true, but as I considered the numbers I could see that from 9th to 12th grade our students’ performance got worse each year when compared to state averages.

Silly me, I said, “That may be so, but we SHOULD at least not keep losing more ground each year they are here.”

Brace yourself! Here was my answer from a senior member of my department:

“THEY don’t care. THEY don’t want it. THEY can’t really be taught!”

I am sad to bear witness to such a thing from a woman whose profession is teaching. I don’t even know how to comment on it.

It is true that teaching in that school was hard, bone crushingly hard some days, but then and there I made my husband promise that if I EVER lost my belief that what I did mattered, he would MAKE me quit that VERY day. I am happy to report that I’ve never for a second lost sight of the certainty that every day counts.

2 … in Teacher Certification Class

Teachers like me who did not study Education in college complete those courses at night during their first year or so on the job. The extra work was a grind, no question, but there was one major benefit to it. I got to spend three hours, twice a week, in the company of other first year teachers. We commiserated, shared ‘war’ stories, laughed, and generally shared the relief of knowing ‘I’m not the ONLY one who…’

As we worked through the various topics, the questions and observations were mostly taken from our individual experiences, successes, and challenges in our new jobs. Those conversations were invaluable! Well, except for one I can remember.

We were discussing ways to put together better tests. An earnest classmate asked, “My students seem to understand the work in class, but every time we have a test the class average is about 45%. What can I do?”

It is hard for me even to type the response from the Professor:

“Well, they are #### kids, what do you expect?” [The professor named our school district, where she herself had once taught.]

Now, that just made me mad. And you know; it STILL makes me mad!

I know for a fact that #### kids are every bit as smart as anyone else. They have dreams! They have goals! And just like ANY class, you get what you expect!

No, I need to restate that. THEY get only what I have the courage to expect – of them and of myself.

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