What drives me

During this last week I’ve had several opportunities to work with high school-aged students who fall outside the range of what one might call “typical.”  In the context of the mathematics classrooms I have been working in, this includes both students who have a long history of failing but who continue to try anyway (in part because passing math is required to graduate), and those who actively resist learning in general for a variety of reasons.

Working with students who have always struggled with math but who keep at it has always been rewarding for me.  What has been less obvious to me is why I like working with students who are actively resisting schooling.  They can often be incredibly rude.  Sometimes they are violent.  Working with them is usually enormously frustrating, because it can seem to take a huge amount of energy to make a tiny amount of progress.  This weekend I attended a conference on teaching for social justice.  The first session I attended was run by a second-year teacher.  Her students were all victims of some kind of abuse or another.  Their test scores are the lowest in the state.  What she was explaining to us was a way she had found to help her students have success in mathematics, and at the same time start to take positive control of their lives.  This sounded very powerful and important to me.

When I began my first day at my alternate placement, I began working with students who, while perhaps not as troubled as those I heard about in the seminar, still had some major issues in their lives.  What I realized in working with them was that they represent for me the greatest opportunity to really make a positive difference.  The teacher I met this weekend consciously chose to work with these damaged students.  Although I had not realized it, I have been unconsciously making the same choice.  I realized, too, that this is part of why I feel so much more at home in a high school than a junior high, something I discussed on Wednesday.  Sure. there are some junior high students who have some pretty big issues, but there seem to be so many more of them in the high school.

This seems like a very important thing for me to have come to understand.  I have often told myself that I felt driven to teach because I am so passionate about learning myself.  That’s true, but it isn’t the whole story.  I am passionate about learning because of what it enables people to do.  And in my view, there are some people who desperately need this, much more than others.


1 Comment

  1. Edie Lie said,

    October 12, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Your insight is fabulous, Sarah. I think that for me, the best part of teaching is when someone understands something they hadn’t previously.

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