Whatever It Takes

"Are you willing to do whatever it takes to ensure each child succeeds?"

Recently, Highline School District (the district I work in, just south of Seattle) conducted something of an audit around their devotion to equity. The question above was among many considered by the "auditors" in determining the commitment of the district's staff to equity.

That this question was considered by such a group strongly implies that equity is only served when school personnel answer yes. Six years ago, when I was just beginning my journey into teaching, I probably would not have found anything disagreeable with that notion. Today, I find it repugnant.

In the 2009-2010 school year, my school's on-time graduation rate was just over fifty percent. The overall rate was just over sixty percent (adding the students who graduated in five or six years). On Thursday, I began discussing a few of the causes of the vastly inferior quality of education often offered in low-income urban schools in comparison to their wealthier suburban counterparts.

If every staff member in a school like mine truly attempted to do whatever it took to make sure each child found academic success; time for sleep, food, adult relationships, families, and exercise would disappear.

While school districts obviously have a large role to play in the education of a child, we have to stop viewing them as the only entities who bear responsibility for a student's academic success.

As things stand, I am decidedly unwilling to attempt to do everything within my power to ensure every child's success. That would be a Herculean effort doomed to failure. It would also require an astronomical degree of egotism on my part.

If things were different....  If I could first pose a few of my own questions, like...

1) Are we, the taxpayers, willing to pay for the education of other people's children, even when they don't look or think like we do, and even (and especially) when they don't live close to us? And are we willing to not only pay for, but work to fix problems that we think aren't our fault?

2) Do we, as a society, recognize the ills that come with societal inequality? And are we, as a society, willing to bear responsibility for that inequality and seek to rectify it?

3) Do we acknowledge that an individual's potential for success in academics, and in life, depends on far more than their proficiency in the traditional academic curriculum? And are we willing to act accordingly?

4) Do we believe in acting on our democratic values rather than just spouting them when the moment arises?

Perhaps if the answers to all of my questions were a yes, then my willingness to answer yes to the question society apparently poses to me, the teacher, would be more realistic and less egotistical.

But the way things are, I will not save every child. In fact, it's unlikely I'll save even one of them. I will, however, help as much as I can without losing my health or my sanity. (I know what happens when you try that.) It's unfortunate that in some districts, my attitude would likely cost a teacher his or her job, which causes many of those unfortunate souls to pretend. To keep their jobs, those teachers talk the talk, hiding that the real walk would be done with a sack of anvils tied around their neck.

I suppose we can pretend as long as it suits us. I'm just worried that we don't all understand that that's exactly what we're doing.


  1. Nice piece. I have felt guilty as my coteacher spends many more hours than me prepping outside of school. It is not something that I can do and retain my sanity.

  2. THANK YOU! It's as if you were reading the thoughts right from my head. I had that question posed to me in an interview. I know they wanted to hear yes, but I couldn't answer yes. What does "anything" entail? It was an urban, charter school and I thought perhaps they might require that I move in with my students..When I was a new teacher, I thought I could save all of my students, but within a short bit of time, i realized that thought was idealistic and you're correct, a bit egocentric. I give my best and I truly care about my students, but I realize there are outside factors that I cannot control, that affect my students' learning. THANK YOU!

  3. Thank you for saying what we all want to say. Too often I feel like I am the only one speaking up (everyone thinks it but turns their head - too afraid to risk backing me up)! I fear I have more repercussions coming my way because once again I dared to say what needed to be said...

  4. "All hail Brother Boutin"

  5. A very interesting read and a great post alltogether. thanks for sharing this information



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