This past week, I was blessed with an email from a former student and it brought up many memories.
The message came from a young lady I’d taught during my first teaching job at an all Black Catholic K-8 school in Indianapolis. While it was a very challenging experience, it was filled with richness. No, not material richness, but the wealth that flows from being surround by dedicated educators and parents who are invested in their children’s learning. Oh, it wasn’t perfect, but neither was I.
I remember reading aloud to my students after lunch. Having a classroom library. Using the city bus to take as many field trips as I could find. Shantelle writing and producing her own play. Celebrating Valentine’s Day as I Love My Black Me Day. I remember Tommy Ellis, an eighth grader we lost to cancer.
I entered the job with no mentor, thus leaving me to sink or swim. Over the five years that I was there, the school was able to attract really good teachers but, that was at a high cost: the principal would tell the young, white teachers she hired that they needed to take the job because “they can’t teach themselves”.
I believe students knew little of what was going on with the adults at the school, they simply endured our emotional roller coasters. I lost both my grandmother and my father while I was there and also separated from my husband. Parental involvement was high and that was important in that school that fought for its survival on a yearly basis. The school has since merged with another all Black Catholic school in the city.
I remember getting both my first home and classroom computer while there. This was the mid 90s so concerns of networking online weren’t issues. In fact, it wasn’t during my next teaching job either. Honestly, I don’t know how I would have managed Tweeting or Instagraming or FBing with students. Now, even with adults I managed two separate FB pages so I imagine I’d have a separate page for student contact but I see it existing more for classroom use than for personal connections. I believe in boundaries.
With these and many other services providing access to information, there’s still so much we don’t know about our schools. I think most parents want to trust that schools exist to educate their children and are doing the best they can in that regard, leaving them one less worry. Unfortunately, education like anything else in this country is a business. While most schools do not exist to make a profit, there are businesses such as textbook companies (who publish standardized tests and literacy/reading/math materials), consultants and program packagers (anything from anti drug programs to after school care) that profit off our children. The new STEAM initiative? Yes, it’s a great way to excite young people in science and math, but it’s also becoming an industry.
And schools are, too. More and more big money is being poured not only into the periphery of education, but into education itself. While it may sound like a good thing to have more funding available to schools, it’s really providing those with agendas to have access to our children and it’s diluting our children’s care away from the democratic process. Be wary because all that glitters isn’t gold.
My student really opened a lot of memories! I suppose those were part of the good ol’ days. Much has changed since then and much continues to, but I think we have to pay attention to these changes and not assume everyone has the best of intentions for our children. Being a teacher was hard then and seeing how few want to do it now, it hasn’t gotten any easier. Teaching can be thankless. It often takes years to hear from students to know that we’ve done something good for them. It’s that individual contact between student and teacher, it’s those moments when an adult lets a child know they matter that are so special. And, I think in those moments teachers are reminded that they matter, too.