Why do I spend so much time at work?

Last night, I came home extremely tired.  I’ve been working nonstop.  I worked through my weekend and I envision that being the case this weekend as well.  I haven’t gotten in before 8:00pm this week because I’ve been spending every waking moment in DC Scholars Stanton.  I say this not because I want admiration or pity, I say this because I wholeheartedly want to do everything possible to be an effective teacher and lead my scholars to achieving their academic goals this year.

It is all I think about.  How can I teach this reading strategy better?  How can I reach my lowest students?  How can I make sure I’m creating a welcoming atmosphere?  How can I be a great school teammate?  The list of questions–much like my to-do list– is never-ending.  Whenever I think I’m ahead, I think of something else that needs to be done because we are in an educational crisis.  The stakes are too high and I refuse to be part of the problem.

Earlier today, President Obama delivered his annual Back to School speech, right here in Washington, D.C. at Benjamin Banneker High School.  Although, I could not see it delivered live, I felt compelled to watch it tonight before hitting the sack.  I was not disappointed.  I felt like he knew exactly how I felt at that moment.  It was like he was in my living room and speaking directly to me.

In one part of his speech, he talked about teachers.  Below is what he said:

Let me say something about teachers, by the way. Teachers are the men and women who might be working harder than just about anybody these days. (Applause.) Whether you go to a big school or a small one, whether you attend a public or a private or charter school –- your teachers are giving up their weekends; they’re waking up at dawn; they’re cramming their days full of classes and extra-curricular activities. And then they’re going home, eating some dinner, and then they’ve got to stay up sometimes past midnight, grading your papers and correcting your grammar, and making sure you got that algebra formula properly.

And they don’t do it for a fancy office. They don’t — they sure don’t do it for the big salary. They do it for you. They do it because nothing gives them more satisfaction than seeing you learn. They live for those moments when something clicks; when you amaze them with your intellect or your vocabulary, or they see what kind of person you’re becoming. And they’re proud of you. And they say, I had something to do with that, that wonderful young person who is going to succeed. They have confidence in you that you will be citizens and leaders who take us into tomorrow. They know you’re our future. So your teachers are pouring everything they got into you, and they’re not alone.

President Obama, you answered a question that many of my friends have asked me time and time again.  Why do you do it?  Why do you spend so many hours at work?  I do it because I want my scholars to succeed.  I know through life experiences that education is the way to a better life for the kids I teach.  I know that what I do in that classroom could set them on the path to success or to a life of poverty.  I want the best for them.  I want them to love learning, and most importantly I want them to succeed in doing what they love most.  I do not want their life’s outcomes to be dictated by their zip code or their parents income level.  I want their life’s outcomes to be controlled by their will to make the world a little better for those coming after them.
Thank you President Obama.  You just recharged my battery.

Education Reformers: We cannot ignore poverty


No matter how much people try to ignore poverty’s influence on the education of our nation’s most vulnerable children, as a teacher, I am hit head on with its power each day.  Last night, a teacher told me that one of her students is now homeless because their family has been evicted from their home.  Immediately, I thought about how this would affect his learning.  Yes, we can provide a stable environment for him at school, but that does not change the fact that he is homeless.  Also, one of my students has a skirt that is too small, but it is the only uniform skirt she has.  She wears the skirt pulled up and unzipped on the side.  I have to buy her a skirt.  These are just two of the countless experiences of students growing up in impoverished urban communities.  These are situations that they were born into and cannot control.

Being a teacher has created a heavy heart in me that impacts how I feel about solving our nation’s failing public schools.   I feel compelled to purchase everything my scholars need.  However, on my teachers salary, I am faced with the reality that I cannot but everything that my students need no matter how much I want to.  I read this week that someone said that the problem is not just on failing public schools, but it is also on failing communities.  As a nation, we must do everything possible to eradicate poverty.  If we really want to reform public education, we must also charge our elected officials to create policies that create more sustainable communities.  We also have to charge communities to unite and become a voice that takes back their futures.  As teachers, administrators, central office personnel, and other staff, we must also speak out against this injustice.  That’s how we truly level the playing field.

There is talk around some new school reformers that poverty isn’t a factor.  Yes, in the “exceptions” poverty may not be a factor.  However, success for all should be a rule.  I am becoming more convinced that people who say that poverty is not a factor have the luxury of escaping poverty in their daily lives.  They do not have to live in it.  They do not have to frequent the social circles of those living in poverty.  It is easy for someone who does not live or truly interact with people living in poverty to say to someone living in poverty that they can “just get over it.”  People with this mentality encounter poverty on the surface level.  As education reformers, we have to dig deeper.

Poverty is at the root of our nation’s public school monstrosity.  Yes, we do need to transform how public schools operate, increase the rigor and academic performance of our nation’s schools, and attract and retain the best and brightest teachers in the classroom, among other internal school issues.  Nevertheless, we must simultaneously address poverty.  If we do not do this, we are doing our students and their families a disservice for we know that economic inequality is an injustice.  And I refuse to be silent about it.

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Two quotes from great men:

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” -Martin Luther King, Jr

I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight. Malcolm X

Late Night Thoughts: I do not want to burn out

I got home about a half hour ago–not from having a nice dinner with friends–but after spending 4 hours planning after school.  Now don’t get me wrong, you know I love my school.  I love my students.  I love their families.  I even received a phone call from one student tonight as I was getting ready to leave, and I told her I was still at school preparing for her classmates tomorrow.  She was in shock.  She had no idea that her teachers spent so much time to create a positive learning environment for them each day.  Like my student, many people also are unaware of the late nights and weekends teachers spend regularly in order to stay afloat and push students to make significant academic gains.  It is only the second week of school, I must find a balance.

Moreover, the bottom line is that I do not want to end up like I did last year–burned out.  I dropped 5 pounds (weight my petite self definitely does not need to lose) and found myself spending Friday nights in a deep slumber instead of enjoying my youthful twenty-something years.  Many people may be wondering, “Why are you at school that late?  Why don’t you just go home?”  The fact is that I have way too much work on my plate and there are not enough hours to do it.  Most people can leave their work at work.  Teachers cannot do this.  Much preparation is done after work hours.  At my school, teachers are given a 45 minute prep period in order to prepare to teach 2 hour and 40 minute content blocks twice a day, daily twenty minute character building lessons, breakfast duties, among other necessary responsibilities.  The time just does not exist in the day to plan.  On top of planning, we also have to grade and track student work.  Each of these tasks takes multiple hours and each task must be done in order to produce the results we all want.

I am not complaining.  I am simply shedding light on the life of a teacher.  Starting today (I’m not going to include time spent prior), I am going to track the amount of hours I spend at school and at home doing the work of a teacher.  I will post updates of my hours in an attempt to showcase that teachers work relentlessly for their students.   I think many people will be amazed at how hard we work each day to prepare our nation’s future to live the lives of their dreams.   Many teachers could say, I’m off at such and such time and I’m not doing this, but we do it because we care for our students.  We want them to succeed and know that their futures depend on our high expectations, our top-notch lessons, and the sacrifice of our personal lives.  As a teacher in a turnaround school (a school that is labeled as chronically failing a.k.a. our nation’s worst public schools), I know that my work is crucial.  Teaching is truly a labor of love.

Late night thoughts: I’m forced to act.

Educational inequity is a civil rights issue.  When I think about the expectations for my school and reflect on the resources available, I am filled with rage.  The lack of resources at my school is deplorable.   I just want my scholars to have every opportunity available. Is that too much to ask?  They deserve to have more than what is given to them; they deserve the best.

When you meet my scholars, you may see their worn clothing on the outside. You see that their lives are hard to live. But when you look past their smiles & see deep in their eyes, you see boundless potential crippled by circumstances they did not choose. And it is in those moments that I’m forced to act.