Lately I’ve read a lot of articles and heard stories and beliefs about education. It is an election year, after all. One particular conversation that has stuck with me is the debate over public versus private education. It hit a nerve so deep that three days later I’m still thinking about it. Although I am a public school teacher, I have the distinction of experiencing both sides of the spectrum as I attended private Catholic schools from second grade through college. I loved my high school and the choice to attend Gonzaga University was one of the best decisions I’ve made. The memories I have of retreats and service opportunities, along with school-wide masses on Holy Days of Obligation are still significant moments which I’ll always hold onto.
I know private school is the best education for many students. Yes, it is expensive, and I admire those who choose to and have the means to pay for it. I paid for my own college education, and had the student loans to prove it for years. Although the Catholic schools I attended in grade and high school were nowhere near in cost as the current yearly tuition of some private schools where I live, where it runs upwards 15 thousand or more a year, I know the sacrifices my parents made at the time to make my education a reality. Likewise, I recall working in the high school cafeteria my freshman year to help pay for my schooling and sweeping bleachers after games each year after as part of my work study job. One time a group of girls from a neighboring school referred to my friends and me as “rich bitches.” It was such an odd thing to hear because I barely had five dollars to my name and was the furthest thing from being rich as we hadn’t yet had the money to purchase school clothes that fall.
I guess what’s bothering me about the comments I’ve read and heard recently are the insinuations that private schools are preferential in that their students receive more opportunities for future success. Additionally some believe that teachers in public schools have tenure so they’ve checked out of teaching, which is something that doesn’t happen in private schools.
I’m a public school teacher. I correct papers late at night, analyze data to help my students improve mandated test scores, take continuing education classes to better my teaching, collaborate with peers to improve instruction, spend hours preparing Guided Language Acquisition Design (GLAD) lessons that will benefit not only my English Language Learners, but entire class. I differentiate lessons so that I’m reaching both my highest and lowest learners, and all 23 in-between.
And every teacher I work with is doing the exact same thing.
My students and my own children, who I’m also proud to say attend public school, deserve the same opportunities as anyone, whether in public or private school, and I’ll fight for that to happen. Not only because it’s right, but because they’re worthy.
What I’d really like for my students to know, and to understand, is that they are capable and that I believe in them. After all, isn’t each of us motivated by those around us? It’s such a powerful thing to hear the words, I know you can do it. I believe in you.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, if you go to private or public school, if you’re homeschooled. The knowledge that someone knows you can achieve success is huge. It’s empowering. It’s a beautiful thing.
I could tell people that the best way to prepare a child academically is to read to them when they are young. I could list stats proving the quality of early childhood education and the benefits of reading lap hours until I’m blue in the face, but it won’t change the reality that many adults have never sat down and read to a child. One of the most depressing sentences I’ve ever heard as a teacher is, “We don’t have any books,” followed by, “No one reads to me at home.” How are we as teachers expected to overcome that obstacle of making up years of early literacy awareness and development when we only have students for a handful of months? The truth is, we teach to the best of our abilities, because we care.
In public schools, we teach everyone. We never know who’s going to walk through our doors. Nor does it matter because we will work our butts off to teach each student in our class. We will advocate for them, buy shoes and clothing for them, make sure they have food to eat over the weekend when they go home on Friday, and yes, at the end of it all, we will teach them. No application or tuition required.
Most importantly, we will believe that each child, whether they want to be at school or not, is capable of growth.
If I could let each of my students know one thing, it would be this:
You are a work of art. Your heart, your mind, your spirit are all artistic elements that make you the person that you are. I’m your teacher. I provide the medium to aid in your self-expression, the charcoal to outline your abilities, the shading to fill in the gaps that prepare you to move forward.
My job of teaching you isn’t always easy, although neither is your job of learning. Your lines are often blurred, and there are many times when I wonder if you’ll be ready to move on and continue with your craft.
You see, I’m a temporary fixture in what will be a lifetime of learning as you complete your greatest masterpiece- your education.
Although I hope for the best, I don’t know what road you’ll take, nor do I know if you’ll receive the same opportunities as another, despite your hard work. What I do know is that I’ll hurt for you when your test scores indicate that you didn’t pass despite making over a year’s worth of growth. I’ll check my email at night and will read the Google doc you sent me from the after-school program. I’ll continue to meet with you after every writing assessment so you know what grade I gave you and I’ll help you set an achievable writing goal for your next task. I’ll make a fool out of myself, singing and dancing if that’s what it takes, in order to motivate you to reach the next level. I’ll open the door for you every day with a smile, even on those days when I am so exhausted that I’m barely functioning. I’ll brag about you to my family and will spend a significant amount of my pay throughout the year to keep our classroom library stocked with books that interest you and teaching supplies that help you learn.
When we were on our way to the field trip and you pointed out graffiti on a bridge, I made you promise that you would never do that. I expect you to keep your promise. I also expect you to keep your promise to call 911 if you’re ever in danger, including riding in a car with someone who’s been drinking. I’ll protect you when you’re in my care and will pray for your protection when you’re not.
I’ll always welcome your first language in my classroom, your insight, your thoughtfulness, and your creativity. I’ll also expect you to apologize with meaning and to know the proper way to accept an apology while still conveying why you were hurt. I’ll teach you what it means to be empathetic and won’t let you forget to say please and thank you.
I won’t be surprised if you think I’m mean or I push you too hard. It’s just that I know how capable you are, and I won’t let you waste that ability. I’ll expect you to come to school. I’ll communicate with your parents, whether for good reasons or bad. I’ll hold you accountable. When you misbehave or don’t complete an assignment correctly because you chose not to listen to the directions, I’ll forgive you.
You are a work of art, and I believe in you. Please don’t ever forget that.