During my two years in the classroom, I had lots of talks with my students. We discussed the fourth grade slump, the importance of fractions in daily life, and what happens when you get caught cheating. But one of the most heartbreaking talks I ever had with my students was about the achievement gap.
During my first year of teaching, I had a group of very bright, talented, and eager fourth graders. They were street smart, curious, and intent on success in life. One day, during a conversation about standardized testing, one of my students pointed out that some schools seemed better than others. A brief intro to the achievement gap later, most of the class was more determined than ever to break the mold and soar above the rest.
But at the back of the classroom, Ashley was in tears. It wasn’t fair, she said. Ashley was one of my best students, years above grade level in reading and very articulate. She went on to tell me about the struggles of her family and about how hard she had and would continue to work, but that it might not be enough.
It’s one thing not to be able to provide a quality education to the students who are repeatedly tardy, have an arsenal of homework excuses, and cause daily disruptions in the classroom. But to look a child in the face, a child who desperately wants a good education, and to tell her that the world sometimes just isn’t fair, remains one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do.
If you haven’t already, consider watching the documentary Waiting for Superman. It’ll make you laugh, it will shock you, and it will break your heart. When I became a teacher, I did so under the mission that one day, all children would have access to a quality education. Well, that day can’t come soon enough.