Save The World Girl.

I have never thought of myself as the type of teacher who gets in to it to “save/change the world.”  I just like kids.  I like seeing them succeed.  I like investing my time in to their present/future.  I like figuring out the best way to help them and doing it.   Today my best friend at school called me just that.  She said, “you’re one of those save the world teachers and it’s just too much.”

I think it was the look on my face or the the way I was talking but when she asked if I was okay I just crashed.  “I’m frustrated,” I told her.  “I know this isn’t working and I can’t fix it. I also don’t know whose job it is to fix it but I don’t think it’s mine.” I was venting about our afterschool homework program which has grown to about 40 kids twice weekly but only 20 kids are really focusing.  So what do you do? I don’t know.  I have no effing clue.  seating charts don’t work.  the same kids don’t always show up and sometimes they need to work together.  You can’t send them home because there isn’t a bus til 4 and some of them are on academic probation and are required to be there.  I am frustrated.  I can’t fix it and I want to. I want the students to be given the chance to make this a successful place for them. I hate that they aren’t.

Now I am going to insert the blog post I wrote the other day and kind of hate. (If you are on twitter you know I may have related this post to vomit) but I think this all ties together so hell.  Here goes.

In order to tell this story I need to explain two things: where I come from and what my school is like.

Me: I grew up in a upper middle class white family. In an upper middle class white neighborhood. My parents (both would want it clearly stated) are immigrants.  But in the least non- American way possible.  They are Canadians. They know the culture and really coming from Canada to America was not a shock.  My dad worked and my mom was a stay at home mom.  (Along with the 18o volunteer things, campaign things, and what not she did.) We ate dinner every night as a family.  In fact my parents still sit down to dinner and my brother goes often for the dinner and for the conversation. (It maybe the thing I miss most)  When I was in 7th grade my mother became a teacher but we still ate dinner together.  I had my own room and by high school a computer but I was never allowed a TV in my bedroom. To this day the idea of a tv is my room seems strange to me.  My elementary school was 90% white and my middle and high school were 75% white and maybe 20% mexican.  The small surf town I lived in was/is amazing but it isn’t diverse.

My School (I teach at):  My school is a k-8 school in the heart of the tech area of California.  There are thousands are expensive apartments and $800,000 town-houses surrounding us. They are so close to each other I bet you can watch your neighbors change. Here’s what you (or me really) didn’t know about the tech sector: they have YOUNG children.  We have an overfull k-3 and only about 75 walking-distance kids in our middle school. So where do we get the rest of our middle schoolers? We bus them in from the surrounding area.  Their parents work at Savemart and Target. Very few of my students have parents with tech sector jobs. My school is racially diverse in a way I never knew growing up.  We do not have a racial sub-group in the middle school that represents more than 30% of our population.  White is not a statistically significant subgroup for testing.  It is significantly different then where I grew up.

Two of the teachers took me and the other first year teacher at school for a tour of the neighborhood my kids live in.  (I live south and they live north so I had never seen it.)  Now I knew my students were poor, everyone of them is on free or reduced lunch but I guess I didn’t really know.

My students live in one of three locations: 1. (pretty cruddy) Trailer Parks (65%) 2. A local neighborhood/mini-city where the houses are falling down and have garbage in the front yards (20%) or 3. In one/ two bedroom apartments with many more than that people. (15%)  The district considers the appartments “walking distance” so many of my students walk the almost 2 miles to and from school each day.

Okay, so how do these two parts relate? I’m not sure but it comes back to a conversation I had with a elementary grade teacher.  She made some comment in conversation about how we may relate differently to students based on race and all I could say was, “None of these students are even close to what I was a child.  White, black, brown, none of these kids are growing up now like I did.  I am just trying to give them as much of what my parents and teachers and adults in my life gave me.”

I trust them the way I was implicitly trusted as child.  I give them opportunities to do more and better things because I could as a child. I encourage them to try out for teams and talent shows because I loved that stuff.  I stand in as parent at the Honor Roll Breakfast and cheer til my voice is hoarse because I never made honor roll and my mom would have been thrilled. I drive them home, because well, someone was always there to pick me up. I let them stay after school because for them school is the stability they don’t get at home.

How is it that we are not doing everything possible for these kids? How can we possibly try?  How can I save the world?

How did I end up trying?


5 thoughts on “Save The World Girl.

  1. I am so glad you posted this. In my opinion, you’re frustrated because you should be. It’s a frustrating situation, and seeing this every day really drives home how much the “every kid has an equal chance” is a lie. You ended up trying because you didn’t shut off the part of your brain that makes connections when you came into the classroom.
    Okay, so frustration is real, what to do about it?
    1) Focus ONLY on what YOU have the power and time to change. That after school homework club? Don’t sweat some of the kids being off task. But you can sit down with one each day and ask them where they need help, perhaps teach them how to find information in a textbook.
    2) Acknowledge what positive change you’ve already had. How many of your students like math more than when you started? How many of your students say Hi in the hallway? How many students have you helped?


  2. How is it that we are not doing everything possible for these kids? How can we possibly try? How can I save the world?

    How did I end up trying?

    By putting one foot in front of the other.
    By taking a deep breath, getting some sleep, and showing up the next day, and the next, and the next.
    By being that teacher who stands in at the Honor Roll Breakfast and cheering until you are hoarse.
    By being the teacher in whose classroom they come in and want to have lunch.
    By being the adult in their lives who encourages them, calls them on their “stuff,” and calls them to do more than they believe they can do.

    The way you keep doing this is by saying the Serenity Prayer over and over and over: Universe, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

    And then you act on what comes, and you practice appropriate and loving self-care every single moment you can, so you can be there the next day and the next and the next.

    Somebody who doesn’t teach asked me the other day how I can keep showing up to try and “save” these at-risk kids day after day, and I had to tell her, “No, no — you’ve got it all wrong. They’re the ones who have saved me..

    – Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)


  3. Thank you for sharing this– I agree with what Hillby and Elizabeth have said, and if I can add my two cents, I’d say that we’re not here to “save” anyone. The longer I’m in this field, the more I realized just how complex our educational system is, and just how much nuance there is to all the inequities and challenges that face our students, teachers, schools, communities, etc. Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough– when I’m confronted with the reality that even when I work ridiculously hard students still slip through the cracks, or when I watch Hollywood versions of what “good teachers” should be– but I think if we each do what we can, and we appreciate everyone else who is doing this work with us, and we help non-educators understand why there are no silver bullet solutions, then hopefully things will start to change 🙂


  4. I concur that each of us owns a responsibility to do what we can do for each other, and fret about not being able to do more. Good for you for being a save the world girl.

    I wanted to share a tweet by Alfie Kohn today about the passing of an educator who cared, Charles Silberman 1925-2011. Kohn tweets that Silberman, “Detailed rules & atmosph of distrust in schls tch studts they’re incapable of regulating their own behav… Schls seem to do everything they can to keep youngsters in a state of chronic, almost infantile, dependency.”


  5. Awesome, sg. Keep growing.

    And if you ever stop growing, hopefully the housing market will have picked up by then and you can get your license and become a real estate agent.

    But until then, keep growing.

    Oh yeah – and the overcrowded, afterschool program with the 40 kids? Maybe they’d rather be at school than home. You’re doing a good thing.


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