I have spent the past eight months on vacation from reality. I have been discussing, analyzing, hypothesizing, and reflecting on the work of urban education. But even while my internship and some of my coursework has taken me into Boston public schools, I have remained essentially detached from the real work.
Yesterday I was transported physically and mentally back to the front lines. The 4 train uptown was filled with third graders returning from a field trip. Coincidentally one of their teachers was a former co-worker.
I heard her complain about the kids: "They're way worse than the kids at 310 [where we worked together]. They come in with no skills." It was hard to hear her talk about children this way, but I also sympathized as she talked about the stress of the testing, and the uncertainty at her school if they once again failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) mandated by No Child Left Behind.
We parted ways and soon I was at my first school. It was dismissal and kids were leaving the building in droves. Mothers pushed strollers with a toddler, and two school age children in tow. Catching up with old friends I was reminded of the passion needed to stay driven in this work. I was also discouraged to hear how demoralized many of them were.
It is difficult work teaching public school in the Bronx. I have never lost respect for that fact, even while on my vacation. But I had forgotten the weight this work can bear on you. I forgot the anxiety of feeling that the stakes are life and death as you try to prepare your students to succeed in a society that has already so badly maligned their chances.
I have learned a lot this year that has strengthened me as an educator. I have been humbled by how much I have learned, but not as much as I was humbled yesterday when I returned to the Bronx and saw the work I've been away from.
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