When I went into education to be an elementary school teacher I wanted more than anything to reach every child. Every single one. Yet, it was during my first year of teaching I learned a difficult lesson...not all students come to school ready to learn, and not all students come to school equipped with the prerequisites needed to be successful right away. Bigger lesson...some kids are far more focused on getting through the day, let alone getting an A on the next assignment.
When I was growing up our family didn’t have a lot of money. I didn’t get the new shoes I always wanted (Adidas Sambas by the way), I had clothes made by my mother (flannel was really cheap back then), and in many ways I was a walking target for anyone that wanted to take a verbal or physical shot at me. However, while I didn’t have money or many friends, I did have a mother that was as involved as she could be, she pushed me to be better, and wanted the best education I could get growing up. There were no excuses, I was going to learn, and she would make sure of that…
I went into education thinking that most families without a lot of money worked this way. After all, it doesn’t take money to care about a child’s education. It doesn’t take money to want the best for your child. It doesn’t take money to be involved and ask questions...but what it does take? Time.
Time is a factor I never really considered growing up. While my family didn’t have a lot of money, my mom did stay home, she was there, and she was able to check in and make sure we were doing our homework...and doing it right.
The other area I never considered when going into education was a family's view of a teacher. You see, back when I was in school it was really simple...if you were successful, that meant you were paying attention and doing your best. If not...well, you needed to close your mouth and pay attention. Teachers were seen as an all-knowing expert and students, like me, understood that our job was to focus and learn from the person who had all the answers..
In essence, there were two major things I wasn’t aware of going into education…
1. Time is not always accessible for parents and families -
2. Not all parents are going to trust a teacher just because of his or her job title -
Now, flash back to me going into education. I wanted, and still want, to reach every child. I want every child to be successful. I want every child to feel loved, appreciated, supported, talented, and capable of doing anything he or she wants to do. Truth be told, I didn’t think it would be all that hard. I was going to study the content, prepare an engaging lesson, then show up and present to the class while they all listened and absorbed the information from me, the expert. After all, if a student chose to not pay attention, thier involved parent would set them straight, and...if a student gave me any lip, no worries, his or her parents would see me as an expert that needs to be respected by my title, so they would set their child straight.
It turns out...that just wasn’t the case for many of my students.
What I learned very quickly was that not all students are internally motivated when it comes to classwork, not all parents are able to offer support, not all parents want to offer support, and in a world where knowledge is at their fingerprints...anything I presented that could be Googled meant their personal device could find the answer faster than I could teach it.
Within a few weeks of my first year of teaching I began to be discouraged….I remember I hit rock bottom when I called one of my parents about a concern I had. Her child spent the first two weeks of school refusing to do anything. I added great opening hooks, I added layers of fun and enjoyment, I added games and puzzles and internet based activities. Yet, he refused. Refused to try, refused to care, refused to participate. His mom was busy, her mailbox was full, but after two weeks of trying I finally got through. I shared my concerns, after sharing some positives, and her response was one I will never forget, and is sadly one I have heard many more times than I like to admit - “Mr. Steele, from 7:45 to 2:45 he is your problem, you deal with it.”
Over time I came across students that didn’t seem to care, didn't want to learn, would give up when things got hard, would rather sleep, would even swear or fight just to escape the expectations of the class...so here was the question I faced...does all mean ALL?
I went into education to reach everyone, I wanted to reach every child...but not every child wanted to learn, and not every parent wanted to be involved or even support me. So what was I going to do? Change my stance to...all means all those willing? All means all those with parents that want to be involved? All means all those with an internal drive for success? All meant what?
Prayer. Reflection. Time. Soul-searching….Did I mean it when I said all means ALL?
In education things don’t always come easy. Every child or young adult that walks into our classrooms has a different story, different background, different struggle. Every child has a different need, different motivation, and different family life. Every child has the free will to make the decisions they choose to make. So how was I, one teacher, going to reach every child? How was I going to ensure that when I said every child was going to be successful I meant ALL? How?
The answer: I haven’t perfected that yet. Here is what I do know - It all starts with three things...belief that every child can, a desire to never give up, and a culture of collaboration for success.
The truth of the matter is there will always be students that will need more than others. Some students will have support at home, others won’t. Some will come to school for the first time able to read, and others won’t know what the letter A is. Here’s the thing...at the end of the day the only thing that matters is a desire to reach all. A desire to do everything we can to make sure every child gets what he or she needs to be successful each day.
Believe they can, never give up, work together, and strive to be a part of a culture that never stops believing...because in education there is one idea that needs to be at the center of all we do...all means ALL.
There’s no magic trick., or program, or software package...it all starts with a desire to do everything we can, together, for every child, no matter what.