So, it might make sense to start a blog about your classroom with a fun ‘First Day of School’ or with an inspirational anecdote about why teaching is my life’s work, right? But I wanted to start this blog as an honest view of what my job is like teaching 7th and 8th at a low-income elementary school in New Orleans East.
Don’t get me wrong, I have always wanted to be a teacher, I love teaching, I am a proud Teach for America corps member and my students some of the most important humans in my life. With that said, though, I have also experienced the unimaginable in the first 3 months of my school year. I am writing not only to share the insane and sometime horrific stories, but also to give others a peek into the ‘other’ America. One that not many people “from away” get to experience first hand. One that I, a white girl from suburban Maine, knew nothing about until Aug. 6th when 27 8th graders walked (or came running) into my life.
The reason I am starting now, and not 3 months ago, is because it took 3 months for me to realize the insanity that is teaching and the unfairness that is the achievement gap. I never thought this job would be easy, especially with 7th and 8th graders and especially in New Orleans. But man, has my world been rocked. After seeing many mortified faces after telling stories about what is, to me, just another day at school I have realized that most people may not even know what the achievement gap is. Some may not even realize how important education is, not because they are uneducated, but because it has been a normal value in throughout their entire life. It was in mine. My students have taught me more in the 3 months than I will probably teach them in this entire year (no, but seriously). I have learned that some students come home after a long day at school (our school day is from 8:10am until 5:00pm) and then begin taking care of their younger siblings and cousins because all the adults in their home are working. Some of my students don’t have time to do homework because they get home from school past 7:00pm. Many of my students read below grade level because below grade level has always been acceptable. Some of my students need to be on IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) that provide them with legal rights and accommodations but in their 8 years of schooling they have slipped through the cracks. I have two students with ankle bracelets (that’s right, they are 8th graders who have been to jail), one of my students is currently in jail and many have been or have pending court dates. Several of my male students think that college is a way for them to become a better football player or a means to the NFL…NOT a means to a diploma. And then there are the ones who just hate school. Everyday I am facing something so much bigger than myself, TFA and so far bigger than this country. It has to be shared. It has to change.