Keep Reaching

I’m not sure if one week counts as a hiatus, but either way, I took a little hiatus from blogging. I had a lot of things to accomplish in a very short period of time. I’m currently on vacation from work, and while I would love nothing more than to sit in the corner of my favorite coffee shop and consume cinnamon orange tea like I was getting paid for it, I had a to-do list longer than all of my “Dear Santa” lists combined. Let’s be honest, that’s a long list.

This list included:
Updating my resume
Declaring rock, paper, scissors an Olympic sport
Writing cover letters
Beating up Eli Manning (I’m from New England, use your brain)
Applying for teaching positions
Learning to moon walk
Scheduling interviews
Putting together my portfolio
Catching up with college friends that I haven’t seen in for-ev-er

Proof that I accomplished something on my to do list. Here I am catching up with my friends. We're really pretty.

A few of those may or may not be fabricated, use your imagination. Either way, I had a lot to do, and very little time to do it in.

Every once in a while I have a wow moment. It’s that part of a movie where the lead character has some kind of intellectual break through. I wish music actually played when I have these kind of moments (I’m thinking this time it would have been “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap, combined with a montage of various moments from middle school leading up to where I am now in life…here…finding gravity…)When these moments happen, I try to reflect on them, usually through writing. This brings me to what is about to be my newest blog post.

While I have been on vacation, I’ve actually still been working as a substitute teacher at the middle school that I once attended. Another teacher in the school came and found me when she heard that I was subbing for the week. We stood together for recess duty and discussed growing up, finding where you fit in, and all of the challenges that the students before us would face in the upcoming years of their life. While watching the group of eighth graders playing basketball and jump roping in the gym, I realized how delicate yet prominent this time in their lives is. I mentioned how sad it was, that in a few years, some of these students will go on to accomplish amazing things, while others may only be a decision or two away from falling into the cracks.

Her response: “Some of them already have. Some of them, you can tell are going to.”

Along my journey to become a teacher, I have come across students I often still think about. If I have done my job, I hope they still think of me as someone who gave them a chance when nobody else would. While teaching in Australia, I encountered a few students who felt like everyone had given up on them. I remember having a conversation with a boy named Adam, who hadn’t completed a single assignment in any of his classes. He was facing expulsion, and I asked the principal to give me some time with Adam every day at lunch. The principal thought I was crazy, but agreed. For thirty minutes a day, for three weeks, Adam sat with me in the computer room. It was the first time, in all of my teaching experiences, that I witnessed true struggle. There were plenty of times Adam was angry at me for making him correct his mistakes, or frustrated with me for keeping him from hanging out with his friends, but by the end of the month Adam was passing. He told me that nobody had ever put in that kind of effort with him, not even his own mother.

It hit me, and still does from time to time, that this is sitting at the base of what is wrong with our education system. Underneath the piles of budget cuts, board meetings, and banned books are students who don’t feel like they have the slightest chance at success.

I wonder at what point this sense of failure beings to set in. Is it when they are playing basketball with their friends in middle school? Or is it when they entered high school and for one reason or another, made choices that weren’t ideal? Drawing from my own experiences, MOST of these students want to learn, but they’ve built up barbed wire fences after years of watching adults who were supposed to be there for them, disappear.

The bell rang and I watched as thirty eighth graders dispersed to their own classrooms. I watched the ones who would someday slip through the cracks, slip through my fingers before I could grab onto them and tell them that whatever happens, they will always have a fighting chance at success.

To my fellow educators, please, keep reaching.