Monday, June 10, 2013

When I taught, Part 1

When I began teaching, my first assignment was a third grade self-contained classroom.  The city I lived and worked in was a working class, blue collar city.  The children in my class came from a variety of backgrounds.  Some came from one parent families, some from extremely poor families, some from more middle class families with more income than others.  All the kids, however, were eager and happy at the beginning of a new school year.

I looked at my motley crew, laughing and happy, and thought how wonderful they looked and how grateful I was to be able to share my new teaching skills with them.  During the course of the school year I learned things about each student that played into how I taught each of them, individually.  I didn't learn this stuff in college.

One young man, George R. (I still remember his name) came to school many times wearing pajama tops kept together with a piece of rawhide and sweatpants. He seemed to always be hungry and couldn't concentrate. He told me he had several siblings, many with different last names.

Another young girl came in, day after day, with her hair all matted and not smelling clean.  She always looked a little sad.  Her brother was also in my class even though he was two years older.  He looked scruffy most of the time.

Another young girl, however, came to school each day wearing exquisite clothes, diamond studs in her ears and smelling of Je Reviens perfume. I had to ask her mother what the scent was.

Teaching was fun.  Most of my pupils were willing to learn and as the year advanced I could see that they were succeeding, for the most part, in their lessons.  But there were times when my heart was breaking.  My little matted-haired girl came in one morning, looking so sad.  The day, for her, didn't improve.  At the end of the day, I asked her to stay behind for a minute after everyone else left.  And we talked, softly and quietly. She told me the family had no hot water in the apartment and she couldn't stand taking a bath in cold water, that the family didn't have a lot of food, that her dad liked to run his fingers through her hair and a bunch of other ugly stuff.  I managed to get her hair washed and cut, found some clean used clothes for her and made sure I had food for her in school.

George was in a similar situation at his house with not having enough food.  And yes, there were others experiencing the same problems.  I started loading up my desk drawers with packages of food, crackers, nutrition bars, etc. and told these kids to come up to my desk at any time and take whatever they needed or wanted.  It cost me a lot during the year but there was not an agency I could find, at that time, where I could get help for these kids.

Over the course of my teaching career, I shelled out a lot of money on school supplies and food.  And I never begrudged that money.  It was necessary and vital to the well being of my pupils.  Schools have NEVER had enough money to provide sufficiently for all the needs of their primary reason for being, the kids who attend.  They are entitled to excellent educations, taught by well-compensated teachers and having the essential materials to foster that eduction.  Every single kid in every single city, town and village in this country deserves the very best education we can give them.  It should never be based on a family's ability to pay.  Public school should be as great as any private school.
"Wouldn't it be nice of the military had to hold bake sales and schools were totally funded?"  That saying has been round for a very long time and is still relevant.

Ah, but there's more.  But that's for a different time. 

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