Dear Communities and Families,
The past week and a half, I have had the urge to stand on top of a desk in the middle of my school building and scream to my students and all students that
Let me share with you some conversations that I had today:
- Student A: “I don’t want your help. I don’t have to.”
- Student B: “There is nothing you can do to change people’s minds.”
- Student C: “I don’t want to today.”
- Student D: “Teachers are the problem.”
- Teacher: “What’s going on? Why did you make an A 3rd quarter and now you’re not turning your stuff in? What’s up?”
- Student E: “That’s why I got an A last quarter: so I don’t have to do anything now.”
I don’t mean to gripe; there’s enough negative energy in the world, but it is disheartening to feel like you’re beating your head against a wall, talking to a deaf audience, putting in hours of work, willing yourself to have patience and faith in people, seeing the potential and not the current prevailing attitude when you are meeting such resistance without backup. Those conversations are hard to stomach day to day, especially when you consider yourself a reflective teacher, one who has tried new engaging strategies and read authors like Kelly Gallagher (Readicide; Write Like This); Jeff Andereson (Mechanically Inclined), Jeff Wilhelm (Reading Don’t Fix No Chevies); Deborah Dean (Strategic Writing), Doug Lemov (Teach Like a Champion), and so many more. On some days they work, and on some days, you want to jump on a desk and start screaming.
One of my students is writing about drug culture, the concept that people view drugs as “cool” or “desirable.” I am proud of him for being insightful; unfortunately, he is one of the few willing to speak up. And that has nothing to do with me; he deserves all the credit for that mindset. He gets it.
Similar to his observation though, there is another type of culture that terrifies me: “school is not cool.” It’s contagious and it’s infecting our students. At church last week, I leaned over to Parker and told him that I am afraid that no matter what I teach my future sons, the idea that “boys hate reading” will rub off on them in middle school, and I won’t be able to stop it. He chuckled because he was expecting me to be worried about peer pressure of drugs or something more grave like that.
Not reading or valuing education is not harmless! It is grave. It’s a numbing, willful ignorance; and its effects on an individual’s life and then society as a whole is frightening. Our kids are below reading level. They give up when a learning task is hard. And they laugh when you bring up mental endurance.
Teachers alone cannot solve this problem. I am with my students for an hour and a half every day. Some teachers only see their students for 45 minutes a day. We need more support from vigilant parents, from coaches, from other role models in the community, from older brothers and sisters, from friends, and anyone else who thinks they can help.
Another teacher the other day shared the old adage that you can lead a camel to water, but you can’t make it drink. That’s how it feels on some days.
Companies are already complaining that their prospective employees don’t have the communication skills they need. News to the companies. Give it 10 years because at our current rate with legislation, lack of parent support, and teacher burnout, I don’t see much changing.
In her autobiography, I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai says that she and her father went to the mountains to rural villages in Pakistan to teach about the importance of education itself. Her father told her that they would be “preachers of education.” How beautifully he put that. Malala was shot in the face by the Taliban because she stood up for girls’ education. Right now, her book is banned in Pakistan; that’s irony for you. Our students are counting the minutes until the bell rings.
Well, it’s not just in rural villages where we need preachers of education. It’s in our wealthy suburbs, in our low-income areas, in our cities, and in our small towns. Across the country, we need those preachers to be connecting with the youth of America to show them why they should value an education.
Teachers alone cannot combat this “school is not cool” business. We are trying. We need backup.
It takes a community to raise a child. It takes a community to educate a child. It takes a community to prepare children to be the successors of our nation.
With deep concerns and prayers of hope,