So I’ve finally found my groove. The year has been long already, but I love my kids. Desperately and completely, in spite of everything and BECAUSE of everything and everyday we spend together. I have seen improvement, they have seen improvement, we have grown even if we have also experienced setbacks. It’s truly a learning curve, and I’m finally settling into that.
I also am traveling to Mumbai this January! Perhaps it’s my newfound confidence that enabled me to win this opportunity, but I am one of six TFA CMs in the entire country who will attend a Teach for All global education symposium in Mumbai to observe and learn from international colleagues and Teach for India. I am so excited, and as a post on their website, I wrote a little about “sense of possibility” or SoPo (as the Brazilians brilliantly call it) that I want to share.
HOW I KEEP MY SOPO
To be a teacher is to become a child’s champion, and to be their champion, you must be willing and able to fight every demon they face, because every demon has the potential to derail them.
But when you have 100 children and they have 100 demons, it multiplies quickly. It is the magnitude and the scope of the problem that often defeats me, at least temporarily.
Every day, my students are confronted with people saying “You can’t. You won’t.” Every day, I am confronted with people saying, “You can’t. They won’t.”
They have dreams in their eyes, and I am honored to hear them in confidential whispers or in scrawled words. Rob wants to be an environmentalist. Diamond wants to be a fashion designer. Rian wants to be a criminal profiler. Jekiema wants to be a lawyer.
But their hopes are dashed by the realities they live. They are many reading levels behind where their competition (suburban peers) are. They contend with home lives that do not support them, either because the guardians are unable to or are unwilling to. They do not have access to resources they need, whether in the classroom or in daily life. And most of all, they are told to conform to standards that they do not recognize or acknowledge as their own; the standards they must fulfill are standards of a society more privileged than theirs, and altogether more foreign.
“Ms. G, how come there aren’t any black people on NBC?” A funny question, but a valid and sad one, as well. Why aren’t there more people in the mainstream public eye who look like, sound like, act like my students and are portrayed as successful, not thugs or criminals?
“Because,” they are told, everywhere they turn. “YOU need to become like US. Walk, talk, and act ‘white’ or else no one will hire you. No college will accept you. You will live on the same block with the same gangbangers and the same drug dealers and the same problems for the rest of your life.”
Maybe this isn’t what they are told in so many words. But it is what they hear, and it erodes on their own SoPo. The kids are the most important stakeholders and actors in their own success–but if they don’t think it’s achievable, then that makes the fight even harder.
“I didn’t even want to go to college before this year, Ms. G! Now they tell me I can’t. Whatever, I don’t wanna go to no Lincoln College or CCP anyway.” Gina has a 1.32 GPA. As she sits with me, she looks defeated, and the baby in her womb sleeps on as she cups her belly and tries not to cry. She is 17, a child about to raise a child.
Once she graduates, at BEST as a woman and with a high school degree, she will only make 1K above the poverty line.
This is a truth. And I know that Gina has done too little, too late. She will not go to college next year. That does not mean she will never go to college, of course. But I know that once she graduates, she–like her peers–will begin to resign herself to the life she makes for her and her child. And that life will be shaped by her community expectations, as well as by her own expectations of herself.
So her future rides on this moment, perhaps: can I convince her that college is still a possibility? Can I invest her in the “could-be’s?” instead of the “what are’s” even though there will be SO much work involved and possibly many more disappointments? Can I reach out to neighbors and friends, help them support Gina in her quest instead of further convincing them that higher education is a pointless, expensive dream?
How do I–someone who comes from such different circumstances and who is perceived as part of the ‘privileged, othered mass’ that is so often the enemy–convince Gina and her community that I have her best interests in mind?
A question that does not let me sleep, even though my body is always exhausted.
One thing that truly makes a sense of possibility difficult is when I see these hurdles my students must overcome as this large, looming, entangled thing. You can’t pick and choose which problem you try and solve, and it’s not just one at a time. You can’t tackle poverty first and THEN move on to illiteracy. They coexist as cyclical problems, and they are so broad and SO complex that it can feel….well, impossible.
When I am presented by the whole child–that whole, spectacular, amazing, worth-the-pain child–I am also presented with society’s expectations and the way my students so obviously and heartearingly fall short of that. I know that to succeed, my students have to unravel an entire lifetime of habits and mindsets. And I know that I get them very late in their development/education, so that it is doubly hard to unravel those habits, those mindsets. I know that I have to plant seeds and hope, pray that those roots take hold. I know that I have to cultivate closely, in order to see any change, even minute. And I know that I have to do that for 100 children, not just one.
So while I try to keep a SoPo, just know it is a struggle. It is hard, and it is every day.