A teacher’s expectations and the standards to which he or she holds students accountable may very well be the largest factor in academic success, or lack thereof. I write these words to you with such a frustrated spirit and a heavy heart because the crass reality is that some students, particularly poor Black and Brown students with uneducated or under-educated parents/guardians, are not and will not receive an education that is going to help them get ahead in life. It is not because these students don’t want more for themselves — many of them do. However, a substantial number of teachers whom they are around everyday, coupled with the environments in which they exist, neither encourage nor support students to attain excellence, academic or otherwise. There’s a huge disconnect between many students and teachers. Educators’ inability to identify with students and their lack of sincere care have a negative impact on students’ ability to see themselves achieving greatness.
Lately I am experiencing a cataclysmic values conundrum. I’m at a point in my career where my giddy “I’m going to change the world” idealism is wearing off. The lens of my perspective is changing. I’m seeing that American education is a system whose fundamental ideologies are vastly opposed to my personal ones which I hold near and dear to my heart. I’m realizing that this system is, like most business-oriented societal entities, designed as a Darwinist “survival of the fittest” institution.
The truth as I see and experience it is that poor Black and Brown students are set up to serve as hosts for the capitalistic, racist parasites who control and manipulate education and other large-scale bureaucracies. I’m fighting an uphill battle that too often is beginning to leave me feeling like I do today — frazzled, bewildered, and entertaining thoughts of an exit plan from the classroom even though my heart is so much with the students. They literally give me life! I enjoy the company of teenagers and young adults more than any other group of people on the planet. They possess such vibrancy, creativity, potential, and hope. It keeps me fresh and relevant and hopeful — or at least it used to.
Something is shifting. My fantasy land ideologies are waning. I’m disheartened by the harsh realities of who the haves and the have-nots are and how deeply these economic and racial constituencies run in the composition of our country’s structures. My students are tracked to just never get ahead. The school-to-prison pipeline is becoming more and more in my face with each passing day. I see who is getting suspended — and who is not. I see whose academic skills sets are far below standards — and whose are not. I see whose teachers teach them with rigorous expectations and well-planned lessons — and whose teachers are just passing time.
I feel strongly that if I’m not part of the solution, I am part of the problem. I refuse to be part of the problem. That’s the antithesis of why I became a teacher. I’m not sure where this is going but one thing is clear to me: my role in education is changing. It has to. For my students. For me. For our ancestors who came before us. For the betterment and future of education.