Tales of the Prodigal

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 05 2012

To Our Frustrated Students (aka the girl who just yelled at our dean)

You’re right. It’s not fair.


It’s not fair that you’ve spent six years in a school system that is chronically broken. Where adult after adult says they care about you while in reality they would rather not fight and push and demand what they should to ensure that you are receiving an excellent education. It’s not fair that culturally, you have been told to respect people who demand it from you and show that they are the dominant ones, while 90% of your teachers were raised in a world where they automatically respected positions on authority. It’s not fair that habits that you got from your parents that they got from their parents, that run rampant in schools around the country are the behaviors with which we believe and know you cannot move forward in life. It’s not fair that you’re having to move forward with blind trust that the work you are doing will lead to better opportunities in a better life. Especially since you’ve likely never seen the fruits of the “education” your family and other people in your community received – some of which went to the best public school in the city. It’s not fair that it feels sometimes like we’re asking you to be someone that you are not. It’s not fair that the light skinned and haired kids from the suburbs have opportunities with mediocre work and sub-par instruction that are withheld from you until you prove that you are exceptional. It’s not fair that, in this day and age, people who look like you and are successful are assumed to either be extraordinary or to have played a system.  It’s unfair. It’s unfair that you have to jump over hurdles that most of your instructors could never imagine just to make it to the building every day, then you get consequences for reactions that are natural outside of our building. That you’re being told by me and every other teacher that what we’re doing for you is so important… but you know that all of your friends in neighborhood are told that their education is just as important and just as meaningful, yet they don’t get punishments for rolling their eyes. They don’t make 17% on tests. And again you have to blindly trust that we are leading you down a path that is the definition of transformational.


If I had a crystal ball, the only thing I would use it for would be to show you that it’s worth it. That the battles we’re having now will in fact set you up for success in a way that another school would not. That we’re pushing you so hard now to teach you how to be in school. That it will get easier over time. I wish you could see yourself sitting in a college classroom, putting the critical thinking skills you learned in 5th grade to good use, asking thoughtful questions and pushing your fellow classmates thinking with questions. I would want you to see that, all those years ago, your teachers were not against you. They were not the enemy. And that school wasn’t just a place you had to go every day. That it changed your life. And we cared so deeply about you that we couldn’t let it be easy and let you sit in class not finishing work.


But you’re right. It’s not fair. And my prayer for you is that when you make it through our system, you are faced with a generation for whom equal opportunities is not just a catch phrase. Where those opportunities are given to kids in classrooms, every classroom, across the country. I hope by then you can see fair.

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