A Divide and the Space Between


I stayed late to make a bevy of phone calls because I’ve learned that Friday contact sends a really clear message to teenagers when a stern parent collides with a weekend full of plans. Sifting through my 11th grade roster, my heart sank as visions of stark and turbulent home lives announced themselves in telling subtleties on the student information system:

* Four kids with only one parent listed, which means the other is dead or deadbeat, no second mailing of report cards to the non-custodial parent, just conspicuously absent

* Three kids with no active phone numbers (poverty) followed by emails that bounced back ‘undeliverable’ or garnered no response

* Two orphans, zero parents, an older brother in one case and an ill-equipped aunt in the other serving as “court-appointed guardians”

* One girl with a younger brother in a high school for the mentally ill

In a sampling of ten out of thirty, the trauma was startling but predictable from a group of kids who made their way onto my ‘hit list’ by failing the first two quizzes of the year. I see them scowling, making assumptions about the discrepancies in privilege, mine versus theirs. I want to breathe winds of reassurance, speak to the power of resilience and grit, tell them, I was you once and Where you come from does not have to dictate where you go if you’re brazen enough to dream bigger than your circumstances.

14 thoughts on “A Divide and the Space Between

  1. It is beautiful to see the care you have for your students, but sobering to see how many of them are dealing with such difficult things at such a young age. I hope they are able to find their strength.


    • Thanks, I just wish I felt like I was effective with them. I can’t seem to get a developing rapport off the ground, and the palpable tension seems to deflate every lesson plan. It’s been really hard :/


  2. I couldn’t agree more. As one of a group of old friends who began a scholarship program for students at our (now) inner-city school, we came to see how many suffered not just conventional poverty, but a poverty of dreams and a poverty of “possibility,” all by age 16. It is a national problem, one that takes much more than giving scholarships to the best of those few who could see a different future might be possible despite the difficult circumstances of their present lives.


    • At least half of them are in an afternoon vocational program, which buoys me because it means that they have some vision for their future even if they’ve decided college and white collar jobs are not for them. Right now I am the figurehead for one of the two academic courses they’re still required to take, the state test they MUST pass, the thing they know they’re bad at.


  3. It doesn’t have to dictate, but I think you see in education the biggest black-and-white reminder of the haves and the have nots. I think that’s why I volunteer so much. Because I have the time and I feel it is the way to level the playing field so all the kids get the same experience in the school even if some of those kids would never get those experiences (especially computer programming) outside of school.

    It’s really hard to be a teacher; to see those needs out there.


    • In education they’re always talking about “the achievement gap” and pushing us to close it through pedagogy, which is America’s way of trying to ignore child poverty and widespread family dysfunction, as if that’s a national epidemic we can just lesson-plan our way out of.


  4. “where you come from does not have to dictate where you go if you’re brazen enough to dream bigger than your circumstances.”

    This is very true. Unfortunately, being “brazen enough” is tough, and so many need help (and don’t get it, or can’t get it, and thoughtful caring teachers like you can’t give it to everyone who needs it) to believe that they can, in fact, escape.

    Hmmm … you’ve got me thinking …


    • You’re right about the last part. Those emotional connections are hardwon at high school level and there isn’t time to make them with everyone. I did put myself on the ‘mentor’ list this year–that’s where I’ve had the greatest impact on perspective.


  5. I know many of them will never realize it, but I am certain that you are doing more for these kids by not writing them off than most people in their lives. I know they are stuck two squares behind other kids, but you’re proof it can be overcome. I hope they see that.


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