Why Our Kids (and I) Are Still Full of Hope
September 02, 2010 06:15 pm
As a teacher, I loved every single second with my seventh graders—even on those days that resembled an emotional roller coaster without seatbelts. But I left teaching after three years because I had become so frustrated with the policies outside of my classroom such as poor teacher preparation, zero tolerance policies, crumbling facilities, and superficial evaluations that affected my students once they stepped outside my door. At the time, the education system just didn’t seem to inspire hope in teachers and students. I almost became cynical and just plain angry, but I knew that I didn’t want to become another burnt-out teacher.
A perfect example of the education system not working correctly occurred a couple of years ago with a student named Uriel, who had the biggest grin and spikiest hair. He was pulled out during the middle of high-stakes test because his brother, diagnosed with leukemia, was rushed to the hospital. He didn’t finish the test. Uriel didn’t have it very easy at home – he helped out by selling oranges at the local flea market and his mother was constantly under the threat of deportation. The next year, he was put into the remedial reading class against my protests because of his incomplete, but low, test scores. His remediation teacher ignored his needs and wrote his boredom off as defiance and misbehavior, leading to a lot of suspensions. He’d been wronged. Yet, in spite of his brother’s health troubles, the system failure, the insecurity, and the terrible school, he consoled me and told me that things will get better. Students are more generous and forgiving with the failures around them, which made this situation all the sadder. I had promised Uriel that things would be better in high school. I didn’t know what else to say at the time, but I knew that I had to do something to make sure that I kept my promise—that things could be better for him and other students when they got to high school.
My frustrations with teaching and my promise to Uriel led me to the Alliance for Excellent Education. Over the last six months, I’ve been working as a policy intern to identify high schools that also give me hope. These schools, which have high graduation rates, strong student engagement, and personalized school cultures, push their students to reach their dreams, no matter the obstacles. These schools include Hidalgo Early College High School (HECHS), an assessment-driven high school that works toward ensuring that each graduate walks away not only with a high school diploma, but at least, an associate’s degree and/or certificate at graduation. Other examples include IDEA College Prep and University Park Campus School, which emphasize personalization and focus attention on each and every student. These and other high schools around the nation are closing the achievement gap—no excuses.
As I leave the Alliance and get ready to start my new job with Education Sector, I’m grateful for the lessons of students like Uriel, high schools like HECHS, and organizations like the Alliance that teach and inspire me towards reforming education. After all, a promise is a promise.