Hello! My name is Marisol, I am an elementary school teacher and an instructor at my local state university. Let me just say that it is great to be able to be a part of this blog and share my experiences with you.
Before I go further, let me tell you a little bit about myself.
First of all, I have known since FOR-EV-ER that I loved to teach. I played “teacher” nearly everyday with my little brother and sister (they were my first guinea pigs… I mean students). I also recruited our upstairs neighbors to be part of our escuelita (Spanish for little school). I had a total of four students. I was pretty sophisticated in my teaching approaches.
Of our three-bedroom apartment, one room was completely dedicated to escuelita. I had four little tables, little chairs, a black board, desk, and a real grade book. My mother had used her financial aid money to purchase the grade book at her campus university.
I gave her dittos that I made and asked her to make copies for me at her school. I created songs, a class schedule, and even differentiated instruction!
My students were different ages—my sister and her friend (our neighbor) were five. Her brother was seven, and my brother was nine. My brother has Down Syndrome, so I had to make his work specifically designed for him. So, in a way, I was also doing classroom inclusion.
Escuelita lasted many years. I learned a lot and so did my “students”. Those students and their families are now long-time friends.
Fast forward many years, and here I am now—a teacher and an instructor in the field I love the most: education!
It seems however, that teaching and going to school, are not as “fun” as it use to be.
As society changes, so do our schools, our students, and our communities.
As teachers, we keep running this way and that way just to keep up with the tides of change. And oh gosh… the pressure! The pressure we face on a daily basis coming from so many directions. We don’t get enough time to decently plan our lessons, make copies, get ready for class, grade, or even EAT!
Woah. Just thinking about the daily responsibilities of a teacher is overwhelming because only a teacher knows the dynamic ways in which we are called to function. This takes a toll on us physically and emotionally.
I am writing this blog post because I want to share with you a story that has helped me navigate my six years of teaching and to remain passionate about my calling (job).
The school I first worked at is located near the Mexican-U.S. border. The whole school qualifies for free lunch. It is in a low-socioeconomic area. The school serves about 1,300 students. I say all this to give the reader some context instead of creating a pity attitude towards the population in this area. I feel like I need to bring this issue to the forefront of my discussion because there are many that have unconscious or conscious biases about students and their families who are labeled as low-socioeconomic.
While there are a ton of things that I could talk about in my experiences at this school, I am going to focus on parent involvement.
This is because I recently had a colleague say, “Oh, I wish I could engage the parents to advocate for their children and to develop an understanding about the expectations of how children have to act in school.” The school that my colleague works at is in a high poverty area. There is violence at the school, sometimes against the teachers themselves.
I can only imagine the type of feelings this teacher is experiencing. There are so many different layers to these problems.
Let me just say that I do not assume to know all the answers or even all the “layers” to the problems. What I can share is my perspective and ideas about difficult environments in teaching.
When I first got hired, I rented an apartment near the school I would be working at. I wanted to live in the same neighborhood as my students.
I am so glad that I did, because I grew so much professionally and personally.
My first year teaching, I taught second grade, and in this class, I has a student named Awesomekid (yes, I obviously changed his name for the purpose of this blog). When Awesomekid came to my class, he could not read or even write his name (his real name is 5 letters long). He had already been retained in first grade. Some teachers suspected a learning disability. They would say things like, “Oh yeah, Awesomekid’s mom does not care. She has like four other kids, and they are all the same. She never comes to any of the meetings”.
Awesomekid’s behavior was also a big problem. He often got into fights at school and talked back to teachers. When he was sent to the office and administration called home, there was usually no answer. Administration was all too familiar of Awesomekid and his family.
You see, although most teachers and administration knew Awesomekid and his family, they did now know him or his family. Awesomekid was a fellow neighbor of mine because we both lived in the same apartments. I developed a relationship with all my students—Awesomekid especially, because of how often I saw him. I learned so much about him just from what I saw after school.
First of all, his mother worked two jobs—yes TWO jobs. His older sibling was in charge of watching her other brothers and sisters. She was a freshman in high school.
Awesomekid was ALWAYS outside. This explained why he did not bring in his homework or it was not complete. There was sometimes not anyone to help Awesomekid after school. If I saw him playing outside I always asked him if he had done his homework. He knew that if he needed help, he could always ask. Awesomekid rarely asked for help, though. I had tutoring after school and he would get most of his work done there.
Other students of mine also lived at the apartments, or very nearby. There were times I had many students and their little siblings come knocking at the door to say hi. If the ice-cream truck happened to pass by at the same time I would get ice-cream for all of them (now that I think about it those coincidences may not have been coincidences). I loved sitting on the curb talking to all of them and eating ice-cream.
I taught him how to read and write (this could be a whole other blog because this journey was also beautiful).
Awesomekid’s grades and behavior improved dramatically.
I also got to know his mother. We became friends. It was obvious that she cared very much for her children. She later confided in me and shared that she had never really felt welcomed at school. While we spoke about different topics, the one thing that she always told me was how thankful she was about all the work I had done with Awesomekid.
Contrary to the school’s narrative, Awesomekid’s mom cared—she cared very much.
I believe this is one of the many lessons that I learned through teaching.
Sometimes we may perceive that parents don’t care because they do not participate in school activities. We expect parents to come to school functions, to be “involved” in their student’s academic development; we want to see the parents volunteer, to pick-up or drop off their kids. If we don’t see these, we then counter with ideas of uncaring parents.
In this case, Awesomekid’s mom worked two jobs, and she could rarely attend school functions. Most of the time, she was too busy to even help her kids with homework and relied on the older siblings to help the younger ones. Despite all this, she was a very loving mother, and she sacrificed so much to make sure her children had a place to live and food to eat.
What scared me the most about this experience is the thought of, “What if I had never gotten to know Awesomekid’s mom?” or, “What if I never knew about Awesomekid’s living conditions?”
These thoughts terrify me because they make me realize that I might have misjudged Awesomekid’s mother in a very unfair way. I would have been so absorbed in my beliefs that I would have unintentionally set lower academic standards for Awesomekid. I wanted the parents to come to the school and be present in the school, and hear what the school had to say instead of the teacher—ME—going to the parents, making house visits, listening what the parents had to say.
The power of teaching works both ways.
The first is the power that we, as teachers, have to make an impact on a student’s life. The second—and for me the most beautiful—is the power that teaching can have on our own way of thinking.
While each of us will face different obstacles in our teaching career, let us remember that our calling is a noble one and one that has great power to make a difference.
I know that the times I felt like quitting (seriously, I thought about just walking out the door sometimes), I felt afraid, I felt frustrated, and I felt unappreciated.
During those moments, my strength came from thoughts of students such as Awesomekid. His smile, him writing his name, him reading, and him coming to visit every school year.
That renews my passion and somehow gives me the strength to continue in this field and love it more each day.