As Winter Break came to a close, I prepared myself to return to my classroom by reflecting on my teaching practice this first semester. Am I meeting the needs of this group of students? What is working? What is not working? What can I do differently to positively impact my students?
As I was thinking of my answers to the above questions, I listened to a podcast from 3P’s in a Pod called Teacher Leadership and Equity with Cornelius Minor that gets me thinking about equity. The students in my class have many obstacles to overcome due to poverty and trauma among other things, so equity is something that is constantly on my mind. My reflection questions became more equity focused. Is my classroom equitable for all my students? What needs to change so that education is equitable for this group of students?
Unfortunately, there are some obstacles that are out of my control that create inequity. I cannot control my students’ home lives, and those who never know where their next meal is coming from do not come to school as ready to learn as my students who have food security. I cannot change my students’ past trauma, nor can I prevent any future trauma. My little ones that come to school after experiencing or witnessing violence are not as ready to learn as my students who have safe homes. I began to feel overwhelmed with the thought of what I need to overcome to make education equitable. Where in the world do I begin to tackle this task?
In the podcast, Cornelius Minor from Columbia University had a great line that stuck with me. He said that there is a misconception that “revolutions are complicated” and that the people from history, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., are really just ordinary people. They did not set out to change the world, they set out to change one thing. Martin Luther King Jr. started with something small – the bus. My thoughts shifted to “What’s my version of the bus?”
My version of the bus is something that I know that I can make a difference with. I know I will not be able to change the world this year, but I can make a small difference that will add up to something much bigger in the long run. As a National Board Certified Teacher, I chose to focus on my students’ literacy development. Many of my students started the year behind, with only 30% of my class ready for grade level material. The 70% that started behind will continue to fall behind, which only increases the education gap, which causes the education system to be inequitable for these students.
Catching these students up is critical, but is a difficult task since they are not at the same spot even though they are behind. I have students who just need a little bump to catch up, and students who need to develop skills that are typically mastered at the beginning of kindergarten, and everything in between. These are excuses I have heard from other teachers about why they cannot make the difference, but my students’ literacy is my version of the bus. Like Martin Luther King Jr., I will not be able to completely change the education system this year, but I can make my classroom equitable for these students by providing instruction at the level these students are at so they can progress.
Every small step that I get my students to grow, especially those students who are behind in their literacy development, is a step that we take together to make education more equitable. I may not be able to change my students’ home lives or any trauma that has occurred, but if I can make a small difference with their education, and get them to move just a little bit, then I know that I have done my job. It is not the revolution that education needs, but it is a start.