I have devoted the past three years of my life to developing my practice as an educator. It has been extremely challenging trying to maintain my personal work/life and my job here. That being said, I have been very appreciative of this experience. I cannot even begin to count all of the profound lessons I have learned about all sorts of things through teaching. I have learned so much about myself, the things I am capable of, my limits, boundaries, and my seemingly endless capacity to love. I learned a lot about my own values, what I truly believe in, the way I think students should learn. I have questioned beliefs that I have held for most of my life about education, schools as institutions, young people, and myself. I did not know, going into this, that I would encounter so many challenges and so many blessings. One half of my heart truly resides in teaching.
I wonder though, with all of the challenges in public and private education, what purpose schools really serve. Are they here to really educate youth? “Educate” here meaning: the cultivation of liberated minds through the acquisition of a diverse range of knowledge bases as well as the skills necessary to navigate and lead through and in spite of the systems of oppression. Do we do this with school? Or is there some other place where this happens? Or is it a culmination of school as well as other lessons learned? Who is responsible for this knowledge?
Or are schools places to train workers? To grow The Citizen of tomorrow, The Employee of tomorrow, The Wage Slave of tomorrow? While it is true that not everyone will grow up to be the CEO of a huge corporation, a professional athlete, or a movie star, we teach our children, somewhere along the line that if they work hard enough, that all of their wildest dreams will come true. So when you ask an eighth grader what she wants to be when she grows up and she says “A model” but has no idea what skills models need to possess, or when a boy responds with “Basketball player in the NBA” and believes that if he wants it bad enough and “does okay in school” that he will achieve it, what are you, as the educator supposed to say back? When we teach our students only to be obedient and follow directions and complete assignments, but then we ask them to be critical thinkers (critical thinking being a rebellion against the status quo to begin with) and they are pained by it, what do we expect? We cannot use school as a tool of oppression to keep children quiet and then in the same breath ask them to change the world for their futures. I struggle with this paradox constantly. We need to teach students to be good people, yes. But in that teaching, in learning social norms, niceties, and “rules”, somewhere along the way, we also teach them that unless they are quiet and obedient, that they will never get anywhere in life.
This generation of students struggles with this challenge more than I have witnessed before. At home they are told to “speak their mind” and to “be themselves” but are not given boundaries either. This is for a myriad of reasons. Some of my students live with relatives other than parents, one parent, parents who work 3 jobs, no parents, are homeless, are in transitional housing, are raising their younger siblings, are struggling with mental and socio-emotional disorders, don’t have food in their homes, experience violence inside and outside their walls, self-medicate, etc. This is not an exaggeration. The numbers are staggering, actually. So how, when nothing about their educational experience or childhood has been “normal”, do we teach them what “normal” looks like or why it’s important to present as “normal” in the rest of the world? When a person does not grow up experiencing love, consistency, and care from their families and communities, it becomes very hard for them to accept any of those things as they become teenagers. We as educators try to give them these things in school, but it often takes a lot of practice for them to accept that love, consistency, and care.
This seems to be the thing I struggle with the most as I crawl uphill to the last two weeks of school, the last two weeks of this chapter of my teaching career.