by Claire Pritchard
I could write a novel on a day-to-day basis about what this job is like and what it does to me. My husband is not a teacher and so some days he doesn’t understand how utterly depleted I am by 3pm. I see students from ages 3 to 14 all day, every day. I teach two radically different subjects. I do administrative duties. I wear so many different hats that some days I am not sure where “out of classroom” me starts and “in classroom” me begins.
I got into education (specifically urban, low income, 90% free and reduced lunch or more) because there are a lack of good, qualified teachers who want to bust their asses helping the kids who need it the most. We need people who are in this for the long haul, not some kid who sees these students as a stepping stone to a better paying career. Teaching in the environment that I do is social justice work, plain and simple. You are giving of yourself to make sure that the next generation succeeds. And they need to succeed.
My students are typically first or second generation immigrants, bilingual and their parents make just over the federal poverty line. But they are the best kids in the whole world. They are hungry, they are eager to learn and EVERYTHING you say they have questions for. It takes a strong hand to overcome homelessness, poverty, absent parents and jailed relatives. It’s not for the faint of heart. But I can tell you stories of times where I know that I made a difference when nobody else would. These kids need structure, they need stability and they need a positive role model.
Anyone who tells you that the achievement gap is because of bad teachers is full of shit. Anyone who has spent ANY time in a classroom will tell you that we have an achievement gap between minorities because of poverty, absent parents, property tax funded schools…the list goes on. We have an achievement gap because people think the racial problems of our country are solved. They’re not. And until we take a hard look at why we have minorities living in terrible housing , students of color with access to limited funds and supplies and why students from well funded districts out perform students from poor funded districts- we’re still going to have an achievement gap and teachers are still going to get blamed.
If you’ve never spent time in an “inner city” school, I encourage you to go out and volunteer. See what it’s like. Tell me that the teachers there aren’t some of the goddamn bravest people that you’ve ever seen. Then I dare you to tell me they’re lazy, they don’t deserve pay raises and that the tenure system should be abolished. I’ll tell you you’re wrong, and I’ll keep on fighting for these kids until they do what I know they’re capable of.
Claire Pritchard has been a public and private school teacher in the Chicagoland area for 6 years. Among many things she is a technology fiend, food enthusiast, musician and surrogate mother to 222 small children. She believes that project based, inquiry learning is the way to inspire kids and you can frequently find her in the middle of carefully controlled chaos (usually involving marshmallows and popsicle sticks).