About a week ago, I elicited all kinds of comments from family members, former high school classmates and even my current high school students after I posted a copy of my old 9th grade report card on Facebook. My grades were less than stellar to say the least, and while I could have attributed to my meager academic performance to a host of factors, the truth of the matter is that I really wasn’t too interested in school at the time. Like a lot of male students I was primarily interested females, football and fooling around in class. I did have few things going for me, however. I had a praying mother, and football coaches who wanted me to do well on both the field and in the classroom. And, perhaps more importantly, I had teachers who believed in me. I think about them all the time, particularly the one who met with me before school to help me understand certain mathematical principles, formulas and concepts, and the English teachers who painstakingly, corrected my papers and encouraged me to work on my writing.
Fast forward some 30 years later and now I am the one working with teenagers. While I am not a teacher, I am a Student Assistance Coordinator. In this capacity my job is to help students who may have some type of behavioral, academic, or drug or alcohol related issue. By all accounts most of the students on my caseload have the cards stacked against them because many of them are poor, black, and live in neighborhoods where violence and urban blight are very much a part of the social terrain. Beset with such an ominous array of challenges one might think that they would just give up. However, the vast majority of the students will at least try to get good grades. Certain members of society may consider them to be a problem, but I see them as full of promise and potential. And when people say “we are gonna read about them in the paper”, I agree with them. The only difference is that I believe some of my students will wind up on the cover of a newspaper, not because they are the perpetrators or victims of a violent crime, but because a reporter may want to highlight how they were successful in the face of unspeakable odds. I have seen it time and time again, despite the challenges my students face many of them will find a way to graduate, go on to college or find employment.
I cannot, I will not, I refuse to give up on my students. I remember struggling in the classroom, and I remember staff members pulling for me and now that I am an educator I feel like I have an obligation to pay it forward.