No Fair! All Schools Are Not Created Equal
Dr. Branstetter | Teaching
I was recently assigned a new school, which I will affectionately call Stepford Elementary School. Now, I am typically assigned to the schools no one wants, by request. If someone makes a face like they are smelling something bad when I say the school’s name, all the better. I like being at cocktail parties and saying, “I coaxed a child wielding a knife down from a flagpole today. (Sips cocktail) How was your day?" I enjoy working with high-needs populations because I feel like I can make a difference. I can see kids whose parents are well-intentioned, but overwhelmed, and can not take breaks from their 3 jobs to take their child to a counselor or learning specialist. Sure, there is a lot of “action” at these schools, but I have seen principals work tirelessly to make these schools better for the kids, and there are a lot of really innovative ideas and programs that inspire me on a daily basis.
So you can imagine my surprise as I walk up to Stepford Elementary and hear a parent out front say, “You know, Douglas, I just really didn’t like the colonial architecture so we didn’t buy the 4-bedroom.” Where am I? Is this the same town? I had never this high up the hills of my urban district before. I was not in Kansas anymore (read Kansas with a Latino accent, please).
I am greeted by the secretary and directed to a fancy schmancy sign-in computer that logs your time of entry and prints out your name tag all pretty for you. For a non-educator, that doesn’t sound fancy, but trust me, usually there are 47 binders for signing in and you can’t find the one you need or a pen. I’m taken to my office, and there is a computer, an Internet connection, AND! AND! an electrical outlet. At my other school, I engage in this long trip wire situation across the auditorium to plug in my little space heater. It keeps it warm, and it keeps the kids from sneaking up on me.
As I visit classes, I hear the following:
“That homework was the funnest EVER!”
“Yea! Long Division!”
“This bookmark I’m making is for my business, AJ’s Bookmarks. EVERYONE has a business these days. Check me out at my website.” (from the mouth of a 10 year old, mind you)
“The PTA raised 2 million dollars for that building.”
“We have an emergency. Clara in second grade wrote something offensive.” (I read this offensive thing. I think I was using the wrong lens to interpret it because I was impressed that a) she wrote it on PAPER, not on public property! And b) she used correct punctuation in replacing the “g” on $%@$ing with an apostrophe. Good for you, Clara!)
And most peculiar of all: No one locks anything. I asked for the key to my office and they looked at me funny. The teachers just LEAVE THEIR PURSES BY THEIR DESKS. Envelopes collecting money are left on the doors of the classroom. Kids are raising their hands and politely saying brilliant things and making connections like, “This reminds me of when I lived in China for the summer and saw a Bengal Tiger.” What is going on here?
I felt like a kid visiting her rich aunt and uncle for the first time. Ooh! They have a POOL! (They do, by the way, also have a pool. The school. Not my aunt and uncle.). How can this school be in the same public school district as the others where I work? I obviously knew that some schools’ PTAs make up for the lack of district funding and can deliver better services, and I knew there was a difference between private and public, and yes, I’ve read 8 hojillion articles on the disparity in education, but I had forgotten how stark the contrast is until I saw it again with my own two eyes.
Sigh. Now what? I guess I’m off to my other school now to try to help my students achieve the same high standards even thought they didn’t have equal developmental conditions and they certainly don’t have equal schools.
Bitter, Party of 1? You’re table is ready. Who me? I’ll have lemonade. I’m going to figure out a way to make it better. No hero complex here. But if I start playing “Gansta’s Paradise” on the way to school and start fancying myself a Michelle Pfeiffer who will use radical teaching methods such as “listening”, in an effort to save the poor children, do slap me.