River Deep, Mountain High

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 22 2011

It’s So Hard To Find Good Help These Days

It’s often said that: “it’s so hard to find good help these days.” But is that really true? Well, it depends on where you look. This past week, I’ve been incredibly frustrated by the lack of competent assistance readily available. In fact, the most helpful folks around have been my students. Let me tell you why:

This year, I had one student in my homeroom earn all A’s on his report card. That never happened last year! I also had a boy earn a 100 in my class. Out of 130 students last year, the highest grade I gave out was a 97. In fact, I had to subtract points from his grade to bring it under a 100 as he had earned the highest average out of 120 students on every test during the first quarter, even earning a 105 once. I was even more proud of him when he earned the highest grade on the district exam, beating out every student in the advanced classes on the other 8th grade hall! As I have told his mom, I’m grateful to teach him because he probably should be in the advanced class, but I do my best to challenge him. I want and believe that all students can achieve, but I’m really here for students like him; he’s one of a few students I think would have kicked my butt as an 8th grader academically.

I’ll be honest, one of my biggest TFA pet peeves is when corps members “brag” on a student’s intelligence to other corps members as if he’s wunderkind-Einstein, when really the student just did something on grade level, if that. “OMG, Antonio is sooooo smart. He ended every sentence with a period AND crossed his t’s.” Or, “wow, Tony’s a genius. He answered four out of five questions right on our quiz” followed by some bogus excuse of why he didn’t get the other one. The best: “these kids are smarter than I am, I just wish he could read at more than a 5th grade reading level!” Now, this is not to say that these students are not bright. Quite the contrary, and it brings tears to my eyes thinking how a few would put my past classmates to shame had they been given half a chance in life. But don’t fool yourself by marveling at black children completing simple assignments as if it’s the next miracle on 34th Street. That is NOT having high expectations. Don’t insult their intelligence like that.

She’s great, but Wendy Kopp struck a nerve with me when she claimed TFA had been successful because it spent 20 years proving that poor, black children could learn. I’m sure (hoping…) that she meant something else by that, but a society that needs 20 years and millions of dollars to believe these children can learn has another thing coming to it. Yes, indeed.

Anyhow, I digressed a lot. I bring up those two students because I went to McDonald’s four times this week both for myself and to get rewards for three students for grades and basketball accomplishments. They managed to mess up my order each time in a different way but I’m not going to call them out like that. Just like I won’t call out Popeye’s for making me 20 minutes later to Pro Sat than I already was because I shouldn’t have gone there in the first place. I will call out Verizon though, for selling me an incompetent smartphone; McDonald’s doesn’t get $80 from me every month; well, let’s hope not…

On the bright side, my students have been a great help to me this week. My 5th period had the roughest day of the semester on Thursday, which resulted in a lot of yelling and a lot of hurt feelings. I think they realized that I went “H.A.M.” not because I wanted to be mean, but because I had extremely high expectations for them. They had won the class point competition hands-down for the first 10 weeks, but were struggling in last place to start the second quarter. When two of my MVP’s (former students of the week) saw that I was trying to patrol the hall (due to 6th graders) and teach simultaneously, they asked me if they could teach the class. I somewhat reluctantly agreed and was certainly glad I let it happen.

They say imitation is the finest form of flattery and it was an amusingly pleasure to see the students take themselves so seriously as they went through the review presentation for a few minutes. One of my ball players did exceedingly well. He mastered checks for understanding quicker than many corps members do! I’m happy to see that my kids are starting to internalize the need to back up answers with evidence by explaining why as opposed to simply checking A, B, C, or D.

I want my students to get in the habit of asking good, scientific questions; and I’m not talking about: “would you like fries with that?”

[disclaimer: no disrespect meant towards fast food service workers. Whatever your job, just do it well]

One Response

  1. Claudia E. Basso

    Once again, you knocked it out of the ball park with you insightfulness. Keep up the good work!

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Remove Barriers, Raise the Bar

Mississippi Delta
Middle School

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