June 20, 2007

doing right

It's the last day of the school year. Thursday, the custodian on my hall asked why I work here. Why didn't I go somewhere else?

I started teaching because of this girl, call her Anastasia. It starts before that, of course, with the many accidents that got me leading wilderness courses in Philadelphia. But the teaching part, that's because of Stasia. Stasia is awesome. She's smart, she's motivated, she's responsible, she's got great interpersonal skills. Once, I saw her pull a kid aside at the beginning of a trip and calmly, politely ask him to stop making sexist comments because it made her angry. He stopped. Another time, she was the leader for the day on a trip. She was uncomfortable because she'd have to motivate people in the morning and she thought she'd be scattered if she was trying to pack herself. She asked me to wake her up half an hour early that morning. So when Stasia needed someone to tutor her for the SATs, of course I said yes.

She couldn't add fractions. Or multiply or divide or define them. She said the last time she'd learned any math was 8th grade. She had As and Bs in her math classes.

It still makes me angry to think about it, though I understand it a lot better now and I'm not as angry at her teachers as I was. But I started teaching in order to do right by Stasia and kids like her, kids who just need the chance to learn something, who are self-motivated enough to really do well but aren't getting what they need. That's why I stayed this year, even when it was hell. It's someone else this year, of course - a few someone elses, not many - and while there are a lot of kids I didn't do right by, I do think in the end I did right by Stasia. If she'd been in my class, she would know how to add fractions by now, and a hell of a lot more. And that's something. Not everything, but something.

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