One for the money...

In education (as with other things, clearly), it always comes down to money. People outside of  education think that money is not spent well (and I can't say that I disagree), while the teachers that are in the trenches are practically begging for money. I don't mean money for themselves, but rather money for things that are always needed in the classroom.

I teach a class of math students who are newcomers, which means that they are new to the country. Now, whatever you feel about people that are here from another country, I want you to put that aside while you are reading this. These students are the hardest working students I have. Their desire to learn math is immense. They are on fire for it. As a matter of fact, sometimes they make me crazy because they want so much, but don't have patience to wait.

In my school district, we have a large influx of immigrants. If you are not familiar with how this works, it is like this. You live in another country, but someone you know, knows someone who lives in Portland, OR, so you move there. Then another family comes and so on. Before you know it, one district has a ton of kids from one particular country. We recently got a new students who speaks a language that only 45,000 people speak. I am sure that getting a translater for this may be next to impossible.

Anyway, back to my students.

Many of the newcomer students come to our school with minimal education. Of course it depends on the country you are from, whether you are from the city or not, and so on, but we have a large number of students who are from war torn countries and their home before they came to us was in a refugee camp. Although many of the children go to school in these camps, they usually only go to the third grade which may not be equivalent to the third grade in this country. So right now, among my 19 students, I have students working on about twelve different things, from adding simple one digit numbers all the way to grade level work. Let me tell you, this makes life VERY challenging. I recently gave some of the students, who are close to grade level, math books. It was upheaval...those that didn't receive math books kept telling me that they didn't get a book. I don't know what to tell them, but I actually don't have books for them, but I said that I hoped soon everyone would get books. More than anything, I would love a shopping spree at some local curriculum store so I could give each and every student a book that would actually work at their level. Right now I am photocopying worksheets (which is a nightmare) and trying to give each student home work two or three nights a week. Imagine if I could actually group them and teach them...almost too much to think of!

This always brings me back to what I truly want out of my teaching life. I want to be sparked and challenged. This is so much more than a job to me, which is why I am probably so frustrated all the time. I want children to be challenged, but I want them to be successful. I want them to want to learn. These newcomers are like human sponges...learning at an amazing rate and they are hungry for more. They are challenging (and exhausting) me in a way that I have never been challenged (or exhausted) before.

My quote of the day today was "Something there is nothing you can do, and in those times, you must do something anyway," really sums up how I feel sometimes. I am at a loss. How do I keep up with my human sponges who would do hours of homework a night and yet motivate my other students who don't realize the opportunity they have before them? How do I do this without the extras that would make it so much more applicable to my students. Hands-on Algebra, the ability to do online geometry would make my class so much more engaging, but I don't have the ability to do those kinds of things.

Somehow this idea of sparking student interest has been lost in translation. Students of the past knew that the teacher was giving them this work for a purpose, to learn, which would help you later in your life. It was assumed that the work was valuable. Now I am not saying every unit taught was the best it could be, but students worked hard at it and were respectful and completed what was asked of them. Now students don't have a vision of their future or how the work that is being given can help them in said future. Their vision is so short-sighted that they can't even see to the end of the year. It's not necessarily about the content that is taught, but rather the work ethic that is shown. This work ethic is what is going to carry them into their future, give them the opportunity to get a job they like and provide for their family. Instead many students look at each year as disposable and unrelated to what came before and what might be coming after. It's all about the now.

So, if I was the queen of all math, what would I do? I would look at the money...where is it going? Are our students really benefitting? Right now, I would have to say they aren't, at least not my newcomers (and frankly all my students who are far under grader level). These students are the forgotten ones, the ones that we push forward, failing along the way. Why, you might ask? Well, because I have nothing for them. I put together lessons, I teach whole group activities, but what I need I can't get. Math books that are at their instructional level and the time to teach them in smaller groups. That, my friend, is about the money, and money is not something that I control...


  1. Yes Shannon, you are right, you do not control the money but somebody does and we as a populous should control them, after all it is our money "they" are spending and it is not getting to the children. So, from the inside, how do we fix it? From the outside, how do we fix it? I for one am really getting tired of talking about the challenges, I want to see some real solutions - the longer we continue to talk about it the more children we lose and we all get to pay for that. Thank you for taking the time to at least voice your experience, it is insightful.


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