Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 21 2013

Teaching the Achievement Gap

There are four responsibilities: 1) teach sixth grade, 2) plan professional development for 21 first year teachers (and begin to plan summer training for 35 new first year teachers), 3) complete three grad classes this semester, including an internship, and 4) train for a half marathon in a month, full marathon in February.

There is one human girl who is getting aggressively angry at the finite nature of time. My first boyfriend in high school would always gripe about time, about how great life would be if we just didn’t have to sleep, about how difficult it is to decide just how to allocate it: loved ones? practicing? school?

I’m at a moment of low confidence. I just spent an entire weekend at home, in Dumas, basically alone, trying to get myself together. I read an entire book Friday after school, then slept for 13 hours. I worked for literally six hours then drove the hour there, hour back winding roads to get groceries. I prepared dinner for my Dumas family. I ran eleven miles and worked another five hours on Sunday. I did not complete all the things I need to complete.

That’s not what this is about.

I’m quick to blame my anxiety on the amount of things I have to do. While valid, that’s not it. Right now¬† have anxiety about the five girls that came to see me after school today, to begin Talent Show 2014 planning.

The fact that they are desperately texting me ideas, plans, and dreams for the show this year shows heart, interest, and excitement. But when they walk in I am blinded by how grown they are. I am caught up in their up dos, lip stick, and so fashionable clothes. I am distracted by the one telling me that the other is “messy”, real messy, apparently, and then learning that’s a euphemism for having sex.

I am angry.

Today my students brought home a mandated letter about No Child Left Behind, and this year’s AYP or AOY or whatever the initials are this year. I’m a reading teacher, after all, so we looked at the paragraphs of massive data.

2012-13 5th grade. My current students. African American math achievement: 42% proficient. White math achievement: 76%. With my head reeling and my hands almost shaking we together pulled the numbers out and wrote them on the board.

“If our school was graded on Benchmark scores, what would we get?” I asked them in earnest.

The black kids would get an F, and the white kids would get a C.

I know this is uncomfortable,” I said, “And don’t think that I’m not uncomfortable. But this is not just a letter of numbers. This is our reality. This is not just the United States in general. This is you. This is us. This is our school and our grade and who are the only people that can change this number?

The reality hit. Some students couldn’t make eye contact with me. Some couldn’t look around. Some still didn’t understand.

It’s embarrassing to me how hard it is to teach the achievement gap, how hard it is to pull those numbers out and admit them, like they’re my fault. Like I shouldn’t expose my students to the numbers because I happen to be on the side that fares better. But this is all the more reason why I must share these numbers, and make them real to my students. This is you. This is us.

My teacher heart has been lifted. I end my paper journals with how blessed I am, with how much I love my life, with how happy I am in where I am.

The happiness is so real, is so warranted. But reality hits hard. Reality is measurable, is concrete, is terrifying. These aren’t just promiscuous Dumas teens, these are my students, these are my kids. I feel so responsible for them. I feel so indebted to them. I feel like I should just keep tiny stashes of condoms and host a women’s empowerment group that addresses reality and pushes confidence but safety. That doesn’t ignore reality. It’s so easy to ignore reality.

I’m aching, today. I feel desperate, alone, without answers.

I don’t know how to manage my new eighth graders, their energy, their size, their interest in coming back. How do I keep them from mauling me? How do I keep us on track when our biggest personality literally exclusively talks about money? How do I build in them the confidence they need to make progress and not turn me and the show into a joke? How do I interact with these older ones?

After a high of confidence, this is a minor come down. How can I expect to be successful in training teachers of all ages and contents when I am just just getting a handle on my sixth graders? How can I learn enough fast enough? How can I help more kids?

Keep going, I’m sure is the first step. Just keep going.

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