Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Memory and A Predicament

"We recognize our own mortality, and we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved -- and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better." -President Barack Obama

"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America." -Bill Clinton

Something wasn’t quite right. I could not simply enjoy this performance, a boys choir visiting our school. It wasn’t their voices—they were lovely. As my eyes panned to the audience, checking to make sure my students were being the respectful audience they had been taught to be, I realized what unsettled me. And when the director invited my students to think about joining the choir, I knew full well that the likelihood of any of my students joining was slim. It wasn’t for the reason the director brought up—that a year-round school schedule wouldn’t fit with the choir’s schedule. It was socioeconomic status, and in an interconnected way, race.

What had made me stop and think was that seeing an all-white group of boys perform to my much more diverse school brought to mind the inequalities prevalent in our society today. Even if one of my students had the means to pay for the expenses of this elite boys choir, would they feel welcome? Watching this homogeneous group, would they think joining was even an option? This may be a small example, but people tend to internalize what they see, and so on some levels, children may not realize the wealth of opportunities available to them if there’s no one like them currently occupying those roles. We can trace this issue back to the disparities in education where children get their first ideas about what is expected of them and what they have the potential to accomplish.

On a related note, there is one thing I feel conflicted about in becoming a teacher. As a white female, I am just like just about every other elementary teacher out there. And I see that there is a need for strong male role models in the lives of my students. I'm not helping the ratio. What makes me qualified for really any sort of advocacy, when I don't fall into most of the disadvantaged groups? Except for being female, so of course I go into the profession where we're most well represented. I want to make a difference, but I know that some criticism of hollywood's portrayal of successful teacher stories is that it's always some "white savior" who swoops in and rescues these kids from gangs, death, jail or what have you. How can I advocate for my students without coming across as condescending, or racist? How can I make a difference in the places that most need good teachers, but who also need role models who represent the students, both in gender and race?

I don't really want to work in some upper middle class (mostly white) neighborhood where the teaching is "easy". Okay, teaching is never easy, but those kids don't need my help, they're going to be fine and successful, and I feel like I have a lot to offer, and that can be best placed in a high need area. I can't really say why this is where I want to teach; it certainly isn't the easy way out. Maybe it's the incredibly positive experience I've had the past two years. Maybe it's that, while I have not encountered huge injustices that impact me personally, I have now seen the results of the inequalities in America in the touching stories of my students. That on some basic level, I believe in America's ability to follow through on its ideals of equality. And I believe in the power of education to right some of America's current predicaments. I suppose it comes down to my moral compass. I'm basing this on my principles versus experience. Otherwise I'm just perpetuating the status quo, and that's not going to be good for anyone in any class.

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