August 18, 2004

Potential

There's a great article about potential, and not realizing it, over at Challies Dot Com. It made me stop and think -- a lot.

As a teacher, I spent a lot of time with kids (duh!). I was able to teach in two areas with totally different socio-economic backgrounds, and different racial makeups. In Georgia, I taught at a school that was split 50-50 almost exactly between white and black students. The school I taught at until recently (as of two weeks ago, I was still listed as being a staff member!) is 99.44% white -- with one Phillipino girl serving as the racial diversity.

The white kids in my last school loved to hear stories about Georgia. I taught kids who dealt drugs in class. I was once offered $100 for a 100% on a test -- and shown the roll of $20s that I was going to be given. The kids in Ohio loved those stories. Then they'd ask about the intelligence level.

I told them the truth. When they asked, I told them that the kids in Georgia cared more about their education than they did. A lot of the kids were from poor families who didn't really live in the district -- the kids "lived" with grandparents or other family members so they could go to a better school. And they appreciated it more. They saw that someone had faith in them, and tried to live up to their potential. And most of them did.

In contrast, the rural Ohio kids tended to live down to expectations. There were exceptions -- I can think of a couple of students (who might even be reading this!) who are intelligent, give some thought to their future, and are trying to do better for themselves. A lot of the kids at the school, though, are trying NOT to do better. They don't want people to think they're trying to be better than their parents.

They love to use excuses. "We live in _________ County. We can't do that -- we're not good enough." They live down to the expectations of the area: "We go to ________ High School . We don't have anything decent, so we're dumb." The school is a charter school, and the funding isn't what it could be, but the real problem is that the kids are happy where they are. They HAVE a LOT of potential, but they don't live up to it.

I think of one girl in particular. She's mouthy, arrogant, and often insubordinate. She was also one of my favorite students last year. She has potential. She could do anything she wants to, and she sells herself short. She's typical of the kids I taught.

It's hard to teach kids who don't care. It's even harder to teach kids who are taught not to care, by parents who don't care because THEY didn't care in school. Especially when I've taught kids who had less opportunity, but made more of it -- simply because they tried, and had some support at home.

With school starting back all over the nation, I want to encourage parents to take an interest in what their kids do at school. Find out who their teachers are. Go to conferences. There's nothing more discouraging for a teacher than to have to be at school an extra three hours or more for conferences, and to have nobody show up. Especially when ten kids failed your classes. Get involved. I LOVED parents who got involved with what their kids were doing. I LOVED it when I got phone calls from upset parents when their kids didn't do well -- as long as they were ready to admit it was the kid's fault. The best thing you can ask one of your child's teachers is "What can I do to help?" Say that to a teacher when you meet them at school.

They might just do backflips. I know I would have.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 08:16 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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