“You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” — Yogi Berra
David and Jonathon began their school experience as enthusiastic kindergartners. By chance they sat next to each other and quickly became fast “playground buddies.”
What a pair they made. David, clean and scrubbed every day, wore new clothes while Jonathon wore whatever wrinkled hand-me-downs he found on the bedroom floor that morning. Still they became an inseparable pair; a sort of “Mutt and Jeff” around the school. Both were described by their Kinder teacher, Mrs. Peach, as “smart as whips.”
During first grade, they ended up in separate classes. David was placed in Teacher of the Year Mrs. C’s class by parent request, while Jonathon was placed in Mrs. S’s class during the regular placement process. During the next five years, David was carefully placed by parent request into the most reputable teachers’ classrooms, while Jonathon, who was now living with his single mother, took whatever he was dealt.
Twice he experienced long-term subs, once for a semester and the other time for the second nine weeks. Though they were still friends, David and Jonathon were no longer as close as during their early years.
By middle school, being far apart academically, they had few classes in common. David continued to take advanced classes from the best teachers, carefully “handpicked” by his parents who had the inside scoop on the school.
During high school David made excellent grades and was soon challenging himself with Advanced Placement classes. He also took part in Student Government, Key Club and HOSA.
He dreamed of going to a major research university to study bio-engineering and design. Jonathon on the other hand had a difficult time throughout middle school.
Things got worse in high school. By the end of what should have been his sophomore year Jonathon had earned exactly four of fourteen possible credits; one in P.E., One in Woodshop and two in credit recovery. Finally, Jonathon had, had enough.
The day he turned sixteen, Jonathon brought his mother (who was now suffering the long term effects of chronic alcohol and drug use) and checked out of school for good.
Tragic as it may sound, this scenario is not unfamiliar. Nor is it uncommon. There are many explanations for David’s success versus Jonathon’s failure; home life, parental engagement, socio-economics, language use, reading, etc. etc. One thing seems evident, David’s parents for whatever reason were able to carefully choose his teachers and his path of classes. Jonathon on the other hand, took whatever he got – and it made a difference.
Over and over research confirms the number one factor in student achievement and success as the teacher. Research also suggests that students with an outstanding teacher will consistently make at least 1 year + gains while students experiencing a poor teacher will not only lose ground, but experience a “shadow” effect lasting up to three years.
The fact is, students learn best from caring teachers with high expectations.
As a principal, I believe it is imperative that David should have had no advantage over Jonathon in terms of content, instruction and community simply because his parents had the ability to get David into the of the “best teacher’s” classrooms. Our vision statement is built around this concept:
“All students, regardless of their circumstances will receive the finest content, instruction and community as a school. As well, everyone will be committed to continuous improvement.”
Though vision statements are often written and placed on the shelf, I truly believe in, and pursue the tenets encompassed in this statement.
We must provide a school where every student, whether David or Jonathon, whether supported at home or homeless, whether affluent or needy receives the same high quality education.
Next time, let’s talk about “finest content”. Until then, if this is the vision for the school, what is your vision for your engagement in your child’s education? How are you engaging with your child?
With your child’s school? With your child’s teacher? What is your vision for your child’s future? I’d encourage you to write it down.
After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there!