Sunday, October 24, 2010

Becoming Superman

     Despite my long enduring love for Superman, in the past two months I've found that becoming a superhero is not quite so easy as running into a phone booth and speedily changing into a spandex bodysuit.  However, every day my coworkers and I are asked to make that transformation (ok not into spandex bodysuits, though I'm sure our kids would LOVE that, but you get the point).  Our little charter school is standing in the face of the gargantuan LAUSD, trying to throw a force field around our kids to protect them from the mess that has been made of American public schools (especially LA public schools).
John Legend, Shine On, from Waiting for Superman.
     Due to the mess that has been created by LAUSD and other social forces, I'm trying to teach 6th graders, many of whom are at a 2nd or 3rd grade reading level, basic reading and writing skills.  They haven't been left behind by the system, but instead they were forced up through it without the attention they needed to meet grade level.  Overcrowded classrooms and ineffective teachers who cannot be fired due to tenure are only part of the problem.
     It's a huge struggle to teach children knowing full well that the homework that we give them likely won't get done at home because many of my kids don't live in environments where they are pushed to succeed, and some of them are not 100% safe at home.  What's going to motivate a student to do her homework when her brother who just graduated from high school got shot and killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?  And what about my special education students, who are becoming painfully aware that they are not like the other students - what's going to motivate them to do their work when they believe in their hearts that they can't succeed?
     It would be easy as educators to step back and throw our hands up, do our jobs and go home, and sigh about another lost generation.  But my school is full of superheros - teachers and administrators who often come to school at 7am and don't leave until 5 or 6pm, spending extra time working with students, despite the challenges that we face daily.  For every student who doesn't believe in himself, there is a classmate willing to elbow him in the ribs to remind him to pay attention.  It's those moments that bring us back every day, willing to stay the extra hour and tutor a student who doesn't get it right away.  It's exhausting work, but it is good work.


  1. Ugh, you're absolutely right! Every day I focus more on the kids that aren't doing well than are doing well... but then I grade a good test (which doesn't come frequently) or I speak to a kid individually, and it reminds me how much some kids actually do want to learn. It just makes you realize that what you're doing is actually worth it to some, but it's really hard to come to terms with the fact that it may not be worth it to all the students, at least in their opinion.

  2. Anna, I'm so proud of you. That's the kind of teacher a kid will remember 20 years from now - the teacher who was willing to stay longer and help out. It's hard to reverse a mentality that doesn't value what you do, but I think too many people have just given up.