Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 13 2012

“Sometimes it feels like it’s never enough.”

The title of this post is a direct quote from my mentor teacher, of 12 years’ experience in my dysfunctional school. Every time someone says something about how there aren’t any good teachers out here, or teachers don’t really care about kids, I think about this woman and remember, once more, why overgeneralizations are stupid.

This quote was said in reference to her 3 semi-gifted students. I say semi-gifted because, as she pointed out, in a better school these kids would just be good, but in our school they really do appear gifted. The problem is that you get to thinking how smart these kids are and you are so proud of them and how hard they work, and then they take a district-mandated standardized test like they did today and you watch it all come crashing down. Granted, this test was bad, and it mostly tested problem-solving (which is really hard to teach and our kids are generally awful at it) and area and perimeter (which we are scheduled to teach two weeks from now). Not exactly a well-aligned or fair or even useful test. But the kids don’t see that. All they see is a test that they thought would be easy, because they have learned so much, that turns out to be really hard. Consequently, they are demoralized and we are reminded, once again, that even our best students aren’t good enough.

As I wrote to someone not too long ago, being here has taught me in a very real way about inequality and injustice. If you took any one of those three kids, or for that matter any of four of my kids (who are not as obviously academically adept as those 3), and plunked them down in my childhood elementary school and gave them 15 years, there is no reason they can’t have all the things I have achieved. Disclaimer, I have been accused of thinking, shall we say, over-optimistically, that all my students are so smart. But some of the things these students say…

One of my reading group students, upon reading a paragraph-long run-on sentence about a deluge of water crashing on a character, made the connection on her own that the author wrote that way to make us feel “like we’re out of breath and drowning too.” One of my math wizards helped out a second grade TEACHER when she told my whole class about a problem classifying groups of shapes that she had found honestly challenging today (why was she co-opting my class to tell them this story? Unclear). His answer to her confusion? “They’re all quadrilaterals.” And one of my newest students reads 191 words per minute (which, I think, is about how fast I read), comprehends all of it, and, in the two weeks she’s been in my class, has read five chapter books and is now working on Swiss Family Robinson.

These kids are SO SMART. And we push them as hard as we can, but at the end of the day, you can only go so far ahead when the rest of your peer group is so far behind. Teachers try to give every student everything, and this amazing woman I quote does more than I could even imagine pulling off, but it just isn’t possible to give everyone everything when they all need so much. With tears in her eyes, love in her heart, and rough, raw emotion in her voice, she speaks the truth: “Sometimes it feels like it’s never enough.”

4 Responses

  1. Cal

    Actually, you could teach them more. You should take the smart kids and put them in one class. They shouldn’t be penalized for knowing the material. The only problem is, ability grouping is anathema in an organization that says High Expectations Are Enough.

    • eminnm

      Watch out: the organization you refer to is TFA. TFA has almost nothing to do with my school, how they group kids, or what we teach them, except that it brought 4 teachers there. We as a school did try to ability-group students in some grades, but there aren’t enough high-achievers for a whole class, which leads to my friend’s 5th grade having the 5 highgest and the 18 lowest kids in the grade. They grouped it that way to have a mid-range ability-group in the other class, but no matter how you group it, there are going to be issues. I KNOW they deserve more, and an organization that says High Expectations Are Enough (which, btw, is kind of a paraphrase…there’s more to it than that) would agree. But they, like me, struggle to make it a reality.

  2. lyndsie

    EMinNM, I just wanted to thank you so much for your well-written blog. You capture your experiences in a fascinatingly unique region in a way that is captivating, hilarious, and heart-breaking all at once. I think your colleague’s quote so simply and eloquently sums up what I (and many other educators, I’m sure) feel all the time. It’s one thing to debate the practice and pedagogy of teaching, but I’m glad you took a moment to so accurately capture the heart of the experience. Keep it up! And congrats on your whiteboard… : )

    • eminnm

      Thank you for your kind words! I swear, every time someone who is not directly related to me reads this, I am happily surprised :-)

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In which I muse about New Mexico, teaching, and life in general.

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