Far-Reaching/ Over-Reaching/ Futilely Gesturing In The Desired Direction
When I wrote this: "As a teacher, I am the single most valid predictor of my student's success; It is my work, my approach, my ability to motivate and reinforce that will cause a student to grow; except in the most extreme instances, what I and the other adults at my school do will matter more than the host of factors parents and families bring with them;" I did not mean to trivialize the role of parents in shaping their children's identity and values, nor did I mean to brush aside the very real challenges poverty and violence pose to those teachers who truly wish to educate all young people.
I did mean that Teddy Ballgame went into every at-bat thinking he was gonna rip one down the line. I did mean that Don DeLillo expects every sentence to stick to your ribs like the mightiest of oatmeals. And I did mean that maybe there's something wrong with us if we can't go into every classroom, look at every kid, and expect to bring about significant academic gains. I'm not saying that's not scary as hell, but on some level, I wonder how you can do this job and not think that. I wonder how you can view yourself and your work as such a contingent thing, as so dependent and potentially futile.
Then I go to work and we're doing the Jaguar Jump Summer Academy, targeting 200 of the lowest-achieving 7th and 8th graders, and my math colleagues are teaching multiplication and the computative difference between + and x. It's important work, and slow-going, and D. comes up all excited because he mastered the 4s, (which was, I think, Thursday's objective) and I give him the fist-pound but walk away sad because how did this happen? How many people decided he was too angry or too fatherless to take the time with? This is my every year start-of-school malaise and anger when the incoming kids stumble over from their elementaries, six years of school behind them, lacking knowledge of their times tables or the ability to decode. It's expected, but still, how many times over are those decisions made by educators who have no right to decide who gets the help they need and who lacks the perceived home support or "model minority" status to be successful?
No doubt there are a myriad of factors capable of impacting student achievement, but it's a slippery slope from reason to excuse, and a young person without the skills to be successful is still a young person without skills. That kid still represents tragedy and someone's failure, no matter where the fingers point.