One of my favorite “perks” about being the Illinois Teacher of the Year is that I get to attend random events where I find myself seated next to incredible educators. We exchange funny anecdotes about education in our respective communities. We compare. We contrast. We laugh. We share our frustrations. Last night was no exception, as I attended a Secondary Literacy event. I was seated next to a veteran elementary teacher from an affluent community, a fact which she made known almost instantly.
Our obligatory conversation began per usual. “Where do you teach?” “What grade?” “How’s the parental support in your district?” “Administrative support?” “Yes, I also enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day… or two!” (Insert polite laughter here. Teachers are such rebels.)
The conversation was going swimmingly, that is until she said something that elicited the same kind of confused, but polite tilt of my head to my right shoulder which one typically receives when they insist that The Beatles are not the single most influential band in music history. (There is no debate here. The facts indubitably point to The Beatles. This is not negotiable. Sorry Stones fans. And Pink Floyd fans.)
With pride, she quipped, “Well, the taxes in my district are extremely high. So we have incredible schools with incredible kids, and the parents expect us to deliver results. And we do or we’re out. We have very high test scores and our kids do very well.”
She said it with such acceptance of the status quo, and she seemed to insinuate that she had won the educational lottery because she worked in such a well-to-do district. Naturally, I began to dissect her statements. And as I attempted to engage in a weird act of triage to rank the most offensive of her comments to least offensive, I lost track and ordered a second glass of wine. (Did I mention that teachers are rebels?)
My problems with statements such as the aforementioned are many. And to be clear, teachers who teach in affluent districts are not the enemy. I don’t blame her for loving her job. But I find it problematic when teachers who teach in affluent districts nonchalantly propagate the belief that wealthy schools are inherently “better” than impoverished schools.
What I found most perplexing, however, about her description of her Shangri-la school existed in the undercurrent of what she implied: 1. Wealthy parents have earned the privilege to harbor high expectations for their children’s schools. 2. Parents who can’t afford to live in Upper Class, Illinois should inherently expect less from their children’s schools. 3. Children in affluent communities deserve a high quality education that yields measurable progress. 4. Children growing up in impoverished areas are less deserving of high quality education. 5. Teachers should be grateful to work in affluent communities because they have “incredible kids.” 6. Low-income schools are intrinsically predisposed to have kids that are…well, not “incredible.” 7. Don’t get me started on the disparity of test scores between wealthy districts and low income districts. I have no doubt that her test scores are “high” considering the fact that most of her students’ basic needs are being met. 8. Regardless, teacher performance/effectiveness should not be determined by or attributed to test scores.
Forgive my little tangent. But sometimes people say things that require me to bite my tongue, go home, and vent my frustrations to my laptop. And this was one of those occasions. And although it was admittedly just some flippant comment from an exhausted, overworked teacher at the end of a long day, it struck a chord with me…a very flat chord. Because after all, poor kids deserve kick ass schools with kick ass teachers, too. And this little exchange reminded me of what I’m advocating for as capitalize on moments of advocacy that have been afforded to me.
On a related note, I am grateful to work in a less-than-affluent district. We are not destitute, but we have our struggles and so do our students. But together, we cultivate important characteristics required for success, such as resilience. And make no mistake, my kids are “incredible.”