Where is the love? That is the question. My PD observed me today for Round 3, and behavior management was the focus area of the day. In my least-invested algebra class, behavior is a huge problem, and it has become a battle, as my PD put it. “You don’t teach us” vs. “You don’t pay attention.” “You go too fast” vs. “You waste too much time.” She has suggested some re-branding, emphasizing and verbalizing the “why” of school, and algebra in particular, as coming from a place of love and not stern frustration.
Tomorrow, we are having a breakfast meeting, and my PD has asked me and another CM at my school “to write down the reason why you get up and work hard for your kids every day. What is it that drives you, what is it that makes you work for your kids.” I think this is a great idea, and I don’t think I’ve thought about it and put myself in that mindset nearly enough. Why I do what I do has become more than my application letter for Teach For America, those generalizations about equality and providing opportunities and changing lives. Teach For America loves the individual stories, the “I teach for Student X,” and though I have four classes full of Student X’s, I don’t teach for one. I teach for all. That’s what Jeremy Beard said, right? “Our children are our legacy. Not some of them, but all of them.”
Why do I get up every day to teach my children? At the heart of it, I do it because I committed to do it. I am Horton (as in I meant what I said, and I said what I meant; I am faithful one hundred percent). But I’ve quit things before: I no longer play piano or oboe; I’ve lost what little literacy I had in Chinese. What about this commitment is different?
I get up every day because I know the statistics, of Memphis specifically, and they make me angry. I am angry that America has left my kids behind, because I know that America can do – and does – better for other kids who have the dumb luck to be born into educated, two-parent households in the suburbs, kids like me who had the dumb luck of being lighter-skinned, better-fed, and talked to about college and role models from an early age. I am angry that my kids grow up in a city with a devastatingly low college completion rate (23.7% of Memphians hold a college degree, putting us 48th in educated populace among the top 51 urban areas); a city that in 2007 ranked #1 among three dozen metro areas in families headed by single parents, families and individuals living in poverty, and births to teen parents; a city whose public school students average a 16 on the ACT. I get up every day because I don’t want these trends to perpetuate with my kids. Education empowers, and with it comes the ability for my kids to be their own advocates, to fight for justice long after my two years in the classroom. I want them to be just as angry as I am – and arm them with the credibility to do something about it. No one’s going to listen to a dropout or a teenager who can’t behave, but someone might listen to a respectful college student, or a college graduate, who can speak to what it’s like to grow up in a school like mine and how utterly unfair it is for children in our district to get shortchanged on their education.
The problem with being angry is that I often frame it with frustration. And it’s so true that I don’t frame it with love, because even though I know I love these kids, or else I would not be at school every single day, they don’t know it, because I don’t tell them enough. I think I assume they know, because of my implicit actions, but my PD is right: at this age, my kids need to hear it loud and clear – and often.
I CARE ABOUT YOU, CHILDREN! Everything I do is for your future. If you didn’t know I loved you before, you better believe my love is going to start smacking you in the face from now on. I am going to kill your apathy with kindness – and then I’m going to help you pass the EOCT.