Remembering Why We Teach in Public Schools
Jul 6, 2010 Teaching 2359 Views
I've said it before. In public education, there are more sad stories than happy endings. Even so, after graduation this year I have to admit that the happy endings might outweigh all that bad stuff. Well, not really, but at least for one glorious day, you can take a look at what accomplishment looks like. It looks like this:
Three of my seniors are going to UC Riverside. We went there on our junior trip and they fell in love with it. They also saw how happy some previous students from our school were as freshmen and sophomores in college. All three students are getting almost full rides because they are so poor. I tell them that every year, this is like my catch phrase: The poorer you are, the more money they give you. The kids at my school are poor, and it's true - the colleges give them a ton of money.
Another senior got a full ride to UC Santa Cruz. Three students are going to my Alma Mater, UC Davis. Another has a full ride to a great Liberal Arts School in Minnesota. Oh, and all of the students I just mentioned are Latinos - the most underrepresented group in college in terms of population. In other words, there aren't a lot of Native Americans in college, but there also aren't very many Native Americans. There aren't very many Latinos in our colleges, but in the United States, there are a ton of Latinos. Our colleges aren't anywhere close to being representative of actual population (of course that's true with Native Americans too).
Over a dozen students are going to our local Cal State campus, which is another victory as far as I'm concerned. I wish they would go away and get the heck away from here, but as long as they're at a 4-year university, I'm not going to complain much. For some of them, I'm just happy they graduated.
Then there is the crop of community college goers. Oh well. At least when they tell me this, the next thing that comes out of their mouths is the name of the college they are going to transfer to. Part of the reason they say this is because they are talking to me, and they know how pissed I get about choosing community college. They already have a 4-year university ready to recite so that I don't start hemorrhaging. Although on the last day of school, I feel bad about getting all upset about it, and usually let it go. I just hate the fact that out of the twenty students who told me they were going to the local JC, only two of them will actually transfer - those are just the facts. That's why I get so heated.
Either way, this year was special. Wednesday held a special significance to me because this was my first true crop of seniors. I began with a lot of them when I began teaching 4 years ago, and many of them I followed for two and even three years. I know their parents. I now teach their siblings. And for some of them I feel like one of the reasons they made it so far is because the bottoms of my Converse All-Stars are printed on their butts.
Of course, I don't take the credit for all of it. The truth is that the kids who got into the good colleges with the full rides were probably going there anyway, whether I was getting all crazy about college every day or not. As disappointing as this sounds, it is the kids going to the local Cal State or JC who I might have helped the most. Really, I feel like some of my biggest victories might have been getting some kids to walk the stage, or even thinking about going to community college. As disappointed as I get about it, I have to remember that some of these kids (a lot more than you would think) are the first in their family to graduate high school. I have a lot of kids whose parents left school in the third or fourth grade - both parents. Crazy, right? So the fact that they finished high school, and are even going to attempt something more with academics seems pretty cool in that light.
Graduation is an amazing day, and this year it was exponentially so. Seeing these kids after four years of wrestling with them shows me the end product. I think too many times during the year we look too much at the small picture. We have a bad day, or the kids do, and we think it is the end of the world. I can't even remember how many times I looked at some of these kids' grades, and their work, their missed assignments, and thought they were done for. "They'll never make it now," I would tell myself. But here we are, after four years of it, and despite all the bad days - despite all the struggles - they are walking the stage, going to colleges, and seem more like adults than I could have imagined four years ago.
So here's to the seniors. They clawed their way to the top, despite all the things working against them in their educations. Despite the fact some of them had to take Algebra twice because the first time we didn't provide them with a teacher, and they had a different sub every day of the year. Despite the fact that a third of them live below the poverty line. Despite everything, they made it. Here, here.
I guess now it's time to buy a new pair of Converse, and get back to work in a couple of months.