A teacher in Memphis describes her efforts to make a substantial difference in the lives of students who live in poverty. Surprisingly and appallingly, some respondents criticize and dismiss her efforts as “self-righteous” and riding a “high horse.” One suggested the teacher should “get down into the dirt,” completely unaware the teacher had previously taught in classrooms with actual dirt floors. The main point of the Memphis teacher still stands. An excellent teacher who cares can make all the difference. I would only amend her main point to say that the teacher does not even have to be all that excellent, as long as the teacher cares. I am the case in point.
I began my teaching career in a poor urban junior high, oh my, decades ago. That first year I was far from excellent and I credit those kids with training me to be an effective teacher. If Casie is an effective teacher, she should be able to wear that badge, not suffer naysayers attempting to dismiss her abilities and experience. The key truly is "When students recognize that a teacher is genuinely interested in their present and future, a desire to learn emerges."
Genuine care for my students was about all I had going for me that first year. Together we forged relationships. I learned how to teach; they learned to have hope and optimism. In the beginning, one boy said, "Why should I bother studying? My father is a janitor, and that is all I will ever be." At the end, he regained the ability to dream and work toward making his dream a reality. I give my students all the credit. All I did was give them the tools and the chance. Some were able to maneuver around their obstacles. For others, either the motivation was too little or the obstacles too great.
Now decades later, the obstacles of poverty and the injustices persist. However, there is no way I will denigrate my positive influence or my students' successes. Of course we must fight to eliminate injustice, but in the meantime we must meet our students where they are, and help them deal with their present circumstances and prepare them to make a brighter future.