On my first day of student teaching in a low-income community, one child cursed at me; another jumped out of her seat, fell flat on her face, and had to be sent to the nurse’s office with a bloody nose; and a third knocked an iPad out of my hands, cracking the screen. I wanted to cry, or quit, or yell and stomp my feet, but I didn’t do these things. I became a teacher to make a difference, so instead, I explained my classroom expectations, wrote the nurse’s pass, and picked the shattered glass off the floor.
Over the next few months, homework completion increased, behavior improved, and I felt like I was accomplishing something. However, one day, I noticed a child staring out the window at the construction site adjacent to the building. The student mumbled to himself, “if only school was doing construction work, then I’d have an A-plus.” I was disappointed. How much pedagogy had I applied to the classroom? Flipped instruction, technology-based learning, Socratic circles, multiple intelligences — had these research-based methods not worked?
The truth is that this child, like many in Saint Louis, is a victim: a victim of poverty, a victim of bad teachers, a victim of a weak system, where a child’s future relies on five numbers.
Maybe this student wouldn’t have done better had he been born to a family from the 63017 ZIP code. But what if he had a choice to go to Shining Rivers Waldorf School, where students are encouraged to learn through hands-on activities, or Construction Careers Center, where students prepare for technical careers, while pursuing academic excellence? If he had a choice, he would have a chance.
Just as I became a teacher to make a difference, I joined the Show-Me Institute team to make a difference. During my time in the classroom, I realized that many of the problems students and teachers face cannot be fixed by a single individual. Many of the problems require us to rethink how we operate our public school system. That is why I am excited to be part of the Show-Me Institute policy team. Our mission is clear — to expand opportunities for students.
I invite you to engage with us and share your ideas. Together, we can build a system that ensures that all students, regardless of the five numbers of their ZIP codes, have access to great schools that meet their needs.