I Miss Them! Is That Weird?

For the past year, I have been teaching at a school in a  relatively affluent area of town, where there are many honors-level students, an active PTO, and lots of money.  (There’s no money for the school; I’m speaking of the families that send their kids to school there.)  I thought I had reached the pinnacle of public school education.   This is the place teachers want to work and never leave.  This should be the point when a veteran teacher knows he has done his time in the trenches and has reached the Holy Grail.

My students took the end-of-grade summative state tests this past week, and they did great!  My regular math classes reached a 91% pass rate.  If my math classes were their own school, it would be labeled an Honor School of Excellence with that rate.  It was accomplished with a math program that is highly controversial in this area and with a teacher who was new to the city and the school.  I do feel vindicated and I feel accomplished, since there were many eyes on me and the program we used.

So, why am I so unfulfilled?

There is one very important thing that I’m missing: pride.  Considered the worst of Dante’s Seven Deadly Sins, pride is also part of a teacher’s paycheck.  One of the things that keeps us all going is the knowledge that we are making a difference in the lives of kids.  While I do believe I advanced the skills and knowledge of my 51 math students, I don’t really believe I’ve changed any lives for the better or made a deep impact that turned any lives around.

I read every day about the serious shortage of veteran teachers in the country’s most disadvantaged schools.  There’s an internal conflict here for me, because I’m one of those.  I left my old school through no fault of my own, but I still chose where I am today.

This is new to me.  I’ve spent my career before this point teaching in schools with at least 50% free and reduced lunch, and a few that were Title I eligible.  There’s something that happens at those schools when a student succeeds (where failure was seemingly the norm).  They cry and hug, their parents cry and hug, and not just because they’ll miss you.  It’s because you led them to do something they didn’t think was possible.  They left your class motivated to be more than they thought they could be.

They have hope.

I’m talking about the student who only eats when he’s at school.  I’m talking about the student whose mother works until eight at night and can’t cook dinner.  I’m talking about the student whose parents moved from Mexico two years ago so she could have an American education and create a life they never had.  I want to see the tears of pride in those kids’ eyes as their families beam proudly at an 8th grade graduation ceremony.

I miss that.  I want to go back to that.  I want to teach the kids everyone labels as “tough.”  I know how to get their attention, I know how to get them to trust me and each other, and I know how to make them want to learn.  That’s where I come from and where I specialize.  That’s where I’m most happy and most proud.  Even if my students forget my name as they go through life, there will be seeds in their minds that I planted; the seeds of wonder, inquiry, creativity, perseverance, cooperation, and dedication.

I’ve worked very hard over the past two years to turn myself into more of a “specialist” in math and technology.  I’ve spent hours and hours finding the common links and the big picture.  Now, I want to share what I’ve learned with the kids who, statistically, do without more than students with higher socioeconomic statuses.

I’m ready to serve in that capacity again.  I’m always thankful for every opportunity, and I will chalk this one up as a valuable experience.  Now, I’m going to try to get back into my comfort zone–the zone everyone else seems to want out of.  This is my mission.

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About Kris Nielsen
Kris L. Nielsen has been a middle grades educator and instructional leader for ten years in New Mexico, Oregon, and North Carolina. He is a graduate of Western Governors University’s Master of Science Education program, with emphasis on child development and instructional technology. Kris is an activist against corporate education reforms and has had his writing featured in several online magazines and blogs, including those of the Washington Post and Diane Ravitch. Kris currently lives in New Mexico with his young son and beautiful wife.

2 Responses to I Miss Them! Is That Weird?

  1. Pingback: Two Down, 178 to Go! « Middle Grades Mastery

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