I was recently challenged to figure out my story…not what I do, or what Pressing Onward does, or even what problem we are trying to solve, but why I am so passionate about that problem – and then put it into words.
Sometimes I don’t feel equipped to have to have the conversations I’m having. What can a white, middle class girl know about being culturally responsive? Do I even know enough to be leading this change on a campus or in a district? What if I’m wrong? What if I offend? I am constantly learning and listening, and sometimes I may even broaden my perspective, or change my thinking on something. Oh, the limiting beliefs are so loud in my head sometimes.
But here it is…God has given me a heart for marginalized students from a very young age. My parents worked full time at an organization called Mission Arlington, where we ministered to the people living in the many low-income and public housing apartment communities in Arlington. My parents were also teaching-parents in a boys home for three years while I was in high school. We lived in the home. I saw the affects first hand of poverty, abuse, and neglect. I saw the overwhelming power of gangs and drugs and teenage pregnancy. I felt confident to walk among the precious kids living in these difficult, sometimes unspeakable circumstances, but I never experienced it first hand. You can probably gather from the work my parents did that we never had a lot of money. We were definitely at the “lower middle class” level, but thanks to my mom’s scrapiness, we always had food, clothes and shelter.
So I always knew I wanted to teach students who lived in these types of circumstances, who needed a little more TLC. Who needed the extra investment. And I did. All 11 years in the classroom. I felt confident to walk among them…but I still never experienced it first hand. There’s a difference, and that’s one thing we must realize. My life was hard. I had an alcoholic husband at the time, I was working 3 jobs, and I had a small baby. No one would say that my life was a “walk in the park.” But it was still different. Just because we “think” we know, we can’t assume we actually know. Sometimes, we need to just listen.
So I taught for many years, and had many students tug at my heart strings. While I believe I made a difference in that my students knew I loved and cared about them, and I even worked my way into some of their most inner confidences, I don’t believe I moved my students to the highest level of thinking and learning that they could’ve accomplished – so while I loved them, and I worked hard to teach them, my lens and knowledge was still not broad enough to design instruction that met my kids where they were, and push them higher.
So here’s my bottom line of where my passion begins:
All kids can and need to learn at a critically high level, no matter race, ethnicity, native language, or circumstance. But not all kids are. I am passionate about helping teachers change this at the ground level.
This is a very non-eloquent way of speaking my mission. I believe the education system in the United States is not an equitable system, and it really never has been. But I have also seen students, all “types” of students, SOAR in individual classrooms. I believe that the teacher holds most of the power, despite the system, and that if he or she sets up an environment where students feel loved and competent, students will also show success. I also believe, on the counter side, that even if we have a more equitable system for school structure and state and federal assessments, if the teacher does not work to build that environment of love and competence, the same students will still not succeed. While I would love for changes to be made “up top”, and think it’s needed, changes can be made right now in the classrooms, where students sit, sometimes desperate for what that teacher can give them – in love, knowledge, empowerment, and acceptance.
I want to show teachers their superpower. I want to inspire teachers to inspire students. I want to help teachers build systems in their classroom that equip students to be independent learners. I also know that the majority of teachers look like me, and I believe God put me in this space for a reason. I believe that campuses should work hard to match the diversity of educators with the diversity of their students, but praise Jesus for the teachers he places at each campus. And if they are willing to learn and inspire, then their race and ethnicity and background matter a whole lot less.
I want to continue my own journey of learning. God has given me this passion and this dream, and I can’t set it aside because I don’t think I’m the “right person”, or I don’t think I’ve had the “right experiences”.
This is my story. This is my passion. This is my heart. I love these students. I don’t think they need saving. I think they need equipping, inspiration, connection, and for their teachers to believe in them deeply and then take them to the next level of learning and thinking and empowering, and I want to help them on that very mission.
I am thankful that I get to work on this mission every day. What a privilege.