My School is a Failing School
I have always worked in struggling urban schools, except when I was completing college course work. Lest I be characterized as one of those slacker teachers who supposedly can’t do any better, let me clarify. This is a choice I have made. I grew up and was educated in a predominantly middle class school district in Colorado. There were some wealthier kids and there were some poorer kids and due to my family circumstances I experienced some sliding up and down that scale. I remember having food stamps and hand-me-downs as well as luxuries such as dinners in exclusive restaurants. However, I come from a family of people with at least two previous generations of college education. I had opportunities because I came from opportunities and I was surrounded by and provided with them and I always knew that I had access to them. When I ended up out of the ‘burbs and in Colorado’s more urban zones it was interesting to see how much poorer poor was. Poor in the city isn’t just your parents are divorced and your mom works a menial job to pay bills for the house. Poor in the city is maybe your family has no house, no job, no prospects, maybe you don’t know anybody who went to college. I was a kid who grew up believing in the benefits of education and how it empowers people and, after drifting through jobs in other human services fields, I eventually gravitated to the field. I want kids and their parents to understand that learning can make a difference for them. Despite the many frustrating aspects of the field (mostly bureaucratic ones) I have remained in public education for longer than I ever imagined.
Therefore, as a result of this choice to live with the personal as my political statement, I have worked in more than one “failing” school. My current school is just my most recent one. We keep changing what we call them here in Colorado but there is always an implication of shame sensed by those of us closely involved with such schools–teachers, families, communities. Terms used in Colorado to characterize such schools include “unsatisfactory”, “red”, and of course “broken” and “failing”, while state and district people who are usually at a comfortable distance from the realities of the low-scoring schools consider “blowing schools up”, or scheduling them for “turnaround”, or “restructure”. From where I’m standing, the punitive strategies aren’t working, nor is ignoring that poorer schools may have additional challenges that we need to address. May I add that I’ve been standing here for much longer than any of the mouthpieces claiming they have the answers? You know, the big mouthed, so-called experts who put our low-paying jobs on the line and who denigrate and insult us while we do truly demanding work that they would never consider doing themselves. I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I’m consistently working to make a difference for kids who need advocates, and I’m not harming anybody in the process. There are far worse jobs I could do than to work in “failing” schools.