It’s funny because the mentality outside of the field of education still exists that teachers have it easy, what with our summers off and our various breaks throughout the school year, but we in the trenches know the reality. The job of a teacher is never complete, it is a 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year job. If we are not physically working on lesson plans, grading papers, or contacting parents outside school hours, we are thinking about our students, reflecting on past lessons, and even seeing kids in our dreams!
The pressures that come with teaching in a low income area are even greater. Many of us feel the burden of having to raise our students who are performing years behind grade level. We see students who are completely disengaged in the learning environment because they have something going on outside of school that they cant get off their mind. Domestic abuse, drugs, violence, gangs, hunger, homelessness, the list goes on and on. Its true that theses students exist in every school, but imagine the helplessness a teacher must feel with thirty of these students in each of his or her classes!
I came across a series of speeches by Harvard Graduate School of Education Faculty who share their ideas on how to improve education. Paul Reville’s speech was the first in the series of eight and is called “Getting to All Means All” and I think he hits the nail on the head when it comes to time, differentiation, and social services. You can watch it here:
Reville’s Big Idea #2 is that schooling alone is insufficient and too weak an intervention to overcome the disadvantages of poverty. This is a refreshing idea for us who teach children of poverty. I think we all already realize it and it is probably why we feel so helpless at times. We know that we cannot possibly improve the lives of every child who walks through our classroom in just one year, yet there is nothing else out there for these students; if we don’t help them, who will?
One of the problems Reville points out is that we have a one-size-fits-all approach. We basically believe that if we treat all students the same, they’ll perform or can reach benchmarks. Teachers who have seen any success in raising proficiency can tell you that differentiated instruction is what did the trick. As an undergrad, the only thing I learned about differentiating was learning to use graphic organizers and communicating directions orally as well as in writing. I had to learn how to differentiate to meet my students needs, and not having many experts to go to for help, I had to learn through trial and error.
What I believe to be Reville’s most innovative message is that we need to have health and social services that help remove the impediments to student success that are happening in students lives outside of school. He says we cannot continue to expect schools to do all this work. I had a principal who once bought a student a new pair of sneakers after she saw that his toes were nearly busting out of his worn out pair and a colleague who purchased a winter coat for one of her students. Teachers are doing things like this everyday and its because if we don’t, no one else will. We need more support.
So, while there are pockets of differentiating going on in classrooms all over, this fundamental principle is not being supported by school and district leaders. We aren’t giving teachers the tools or resources to confidently and effectively differentiate their instruction. We need to tap into the time spent outside of the learning environment to get disadvantaged students back on the leader board. And lastly, we need to integrate social services into school so that kids are entering classrooms fed, rested, and ready to learn. Unfortunately, these ideas are described as bold and it makes me ask the question again, if we know what works when it comes to closing the achievement gap, why aren’t we doing it?
You can see all the speeches by clicking on the link and below it, I summarize some other great points:
Todd Rose brings says that our curriculum materials are built for the average student at each grade level – where’s the differentiation there?
Bridget Terry Long brings up the affordability of higher education.
Tom Kane has a rebuttal for anyone who says that kids who don’t graduate or go to college can find work in blue-collar industries.
Karen Mapp has a great idea to improve family engagement through teaching parents how to support their kid’s learning.