Three years ago today, I was named National Teacher of the Year. As I reflect on that day and what it meant for me to represent the teachers of America for a year, it all seems like a fantastic dream. The sense of pride I felt for the teaching profession was overwhelming.
Today, at the age of 54, I finally had to look myself in the mirror and say out loud — “There are educators who do not care!” I have so long believed in the premise that every person who chose to go into the field of education did so because they cared about children and hoped to make a difference in the life of a child.
I was wrong. Not all educators care. I can hardly breathe with the hurt that this realization creates inside me.
I will tell you who does care, and that is the children I am with everyday at Brighton School. For the last few weeks during testing, I returned to my old job of breakfast duty. When I was in the classroom everyday, this was not something I enjoyed. Last year when I began my career as a Curriculum Specialist, this was a part of my daily routine. I could not wait to be with the kids in the lunchroom every morning. However, this year, my principal felt I did not need to do this any longer.
Something happened on my recent return to "breakfast duty" to confirm my belief that children have an innate sense of how to take care of each other, especially children from poverty.
One morning, a fourth grade student was sitting with one of our kindergarten students. This particular young child came to our school after Christmas. He displays serious developmental delays and has a very limited oral vocabulary. As a result, he screams a lot, entering the lunchroom many mornings yelling at the top of his voice. Two weeks ago, I noticed he was sitting by one of our fourth grade boys and was behaving beautifully while eating his breakfast.
When I went to speak to him and compliment his behavior, the fourth grade student informed me that taking care of this student at breakfast was going to be his job. I just smiled and presumed he had been asked to take this task on. Later, I learned that the fourth grader had decided to take this challenge on himself. This fourth grade student is probably one of the most streetwise kids we have and here he is wiping this child’s mouth, tying his shoes, then walking him to class. The young kindergarten student responds beautifully to his directions and I cannot tell you how much difference it makes in how this child starts his day.
Brighton kids care about each other and what a wonderful example they are to us as adults. I just wish the adults making decisions about their futures cared as much.
In previous blogs, I have been very outspoken about the needs of our middle school students. This past week in reviewing mid-nine weeks progress reports, it was discovered that 30 out of the 42 students in eight grade are failing English for this last nine weeks of school. My heart breaks for our students, as I know we have failed them. I look in the faces of our kindergarten students who have made so much progress this year and know we have very little to offer them for the future. Unless things change, one day they will be eighth graders in a school that is not equipped to prepare them for high school.
I've mentioned in past blogs that because of our campus set-up and our district staffing and resourcing rules, being a K-8 school puts us at a serious disadvantage as we try to improve. This past week it was announced to my principal that our school would remain K-8, even if we are given a new building in the future. When she first told me this news I wanted to wave a white flag and say, "I am defeated, I am done, I have lost all hope." However, I cannot look in the faces of the Brighton children and give up. In the next breath, I asked my principal if I could move to our middle school building next year.
Middle school is not my area of experience or expertise, so I need responses from any of you who are middle school experts. Where do you start to create a school for 122 students in grades 6-8, many of whom have poor reading skills and weak foundations in math?
This is what we have to offer:
• Student teacher ratio of 1-10,
• Good reading resources,
• A computer lab
• Outstanding art and music programs
• Girls and boys basketball
This is what we do not have:
• Honors classes
• School clubs
• Extracurricular activities
• Sufficient staffing
My question is, how do you get them ready for high school?
I would so appreciate any and all responses to help these students. I know there are some in my district who wish I would quit talking about this situation at Brighton. After all, in the second largest school system in the state, 122 kids in one small school do not deserve this much attention, so I am told.
However, I cannot remain silent on this issue. The only hope for these students lies in the time they spend at school. They deserve our best effort. We cannot continue to fail them.