It would be safe to say that I teach in a considerably-less-than-affluent part of town. The other day, I was reviewing a quiz and on a particular question and I asked those who got it wrong if they understood why. I had one student say ‘because we go to <name of the school>’.
Some backstory might be appropriate, but you can probably guess where I’m going before I even get started. Traditionally, this has been a low-performing school in the district. This is my first year at this school, but from what I understand there was little in the way of expectations placed on the students from some of the teachers. So, the reaction to the school’s test scores in the last few years seemed to be ‘Well, that’s just the students we have to work with’.
(Probably a good time for a disclaimer…as stated above, this is my first year at this school and this analysis/opinion is purely my own and is based only on my observation and from various conversations I have had.)
My response to that student (and to any teacher or administrator who simply accepts scores because of surroundings), while inappropriate, is heartfelt: ‘Bullshit.’
Now, look, I am not going to sit here and tell you that their surroundings at home or other factors do not affect a student’s school performance. Middle/high school teachers have as little as 45 minutes per day to make some kind of positive impact…which leaves 23 hours and 15 minutes for any other kind of impact. But we, as educators, must continually make our expectations clear. We must tell them, literally every day, that they can be just as successful as some kid from the northside. They may not believe it today, or next week, or next month or even by the end of the year. But if they hear it enough and from enough people maybe, just maybe, they can start believing in themselves.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the first key step to learning and education. If we convince students that they can, then, in all likelihood, they will.