I know our school day is long. I too, want to go home and take a nap around 3:30 every afternoon when we see kids from nearby schools skipping past our window on their way home.
But you and I both know the intentional reasons why we don’t dismiss until 4:55. You are safer at school during that often-grueling, additional hour and a half than you are wandering around Deerpath Park or walking past the McDonalds on the corner of Keist and Illinois. And, this extra time at school, when used for its intended purpose of character building and additional academic instruction, is essential for ensuring that you and your classmates are on a path to college.
However, when you come into my classroom at 3:30 for afternoon advisory and decide it’s a good idea to NaeNae around the room with an open sunbutter snack cup in your hand, you are not making a wise use of our extended school day.
The sunbutter dance move you invented today created a gigantic mess of sticky, brown goo all over my classroom blinds. Mr. Torres had to spend additional time out of his day to clean up after you.
I’ve already spoken with your aunt. She and I agreed that your actions in afternoon advisory merit a further extension of your school day tomorrow. You will help Mr. Torres clean after school until 6 p.m. to make up for the extra work you created for him today.
I need you to be excellent from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. I expect the best from you, because to demand anything less would be to teach you that the work we are doing together is not valuable.
All my love,
Overwhelmed by the nine short days until the STAAR test, I was crying in the hallway this morning. Inside my head, I heard the all-too-familiar chorus of accusatory voices.
“You haven’t done enough to prepare your students for this test.”
“They won’t pass, and it’s all your fault.”
“You can’t even get them to stay in their seats and stop shouting out in the middle of a lesson; how could you have imagined that they would be reading on grade level by April 22?”
Unexpectedly, I heard your voice cut through the clutter in my mind.
“Ms. Jackson, you ok? Why are you crying?”
I couldn’t begin to explain what I had hoped to accomplish in nine short months. How I repeatedly failed you and your classmates every time I delivered lessons that weren’t rigorous enough or relevant or interesting or even properly copied because I was too tired to make sure the pages stapled in the right order.
“Just allergies, Karah. My eyes are watering a little, but I’m fine.”
“Oh, ok… Are you allergic to bad behavior, Miss? Cuz I’m pretty done with the way they been treating you in 3rd period.”
In that moment, the angry mob in my head stopped to listen to you. I had to ask myself what I originally set out to do when I signed up to teach.
I wanted to foster genuine, transformative relationships with students who have so often been overlooked. I wanted my students to learn how to read, for goodness’ sake, and we still have a long way to go there, yes, but the STAAR test is just one measure. This exam is only a sliver of what a you and your classmates have learned in a year.
What about empathy, respect, and compassion? What about a true love of reading? The grit and tenacity that unfurls as you put your pencil to the scantron one more time, even if we both know your score is likely going to be lower than average.
I smiled and looked down at you, wiping away the last stubborn tear.
“Yes, the doctor says I’m allergic to bad behavior, and the STAAR test.”
Your eyes widened as you shook your head and giggled.
“You funny, Ms. Jackson. I hope you move up and teach us in 7th grade next year.”
The truth is, you deserve more than a teacher who is funny and fun. With the STAAR test looming, I have to confront the brutal facts that I was not a strong enough teacher to lead you, academically, to the place you deserve to be at this point in the year.
We didn’t make up the years of reading growth that needed to happen, but you did improve, academically and as a woman of character and integrity. Perhaps there is hope yet for the remaining weeks. I’m not giving up on teaching the TEKS you need to know for 7th grade or modeling character qualities that will carry you through your adolescent years, like kindness and courage.
We have much to learn and very little time. You with me?
All my love,