I read a very thought provoking book over my break called Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo.
This book made me very angry at times. I had a hard time trusting the author at first. She won me over with her honesty however. Questions the authors intentions and honesty is something we want our students to do. I find myself doing just that more and more when I read. If I cannot do it, I should not expect my students to or ask them to. The author discusses her experience as a Teach For America teacher, teaching in Arkansas for 2 years. It really brings to the forefront the cycle of poverty that exists today in America even in more rural areas. As an educator who has worked with elementary age students in title 1 schools for my whole career it really drove home the need to be a focused, passionate, and reflective teacher. If we can bridge the achievement at the elementary level, then students like Patrick should be able to better grow their skills and start to excel as learners in middle school and high school. I do not want my middle school and high school partners in education to have to try and play catch up with students like Patrick. It brought to light the need for some schools in America to go year-round, and pay teachers well to do so. I am fortunate enough to work in a district that has 2 elementary schools going year-round. I work at one of them. We are not using the traditional year-round method where the days of the school year are spread out more evenly, without actually increasing student minutes or # of days in school. My district actually adds 30-31 more student days each year to the regular school calendar year. This has been very beneficial for our students in many ways.
The author mentions how much regression Patrick seemed to show in his reading ability after he dropped out of school. I feel with Patrick, it was more a lack of necessity than regression because of the cycle of poverty his community was stuck in. His skills were still there, but he had just not used them in a while. This is true for some of the kids I work with as well. When they are not in school, reading is not a necessity in there family unit. Year-round schooling can defiantly help with this problem.
As an educator, I have taught in 2 very unique places where learning still happened. I started my career teaching in a charter school that was located in a high-rise apartment building in downtown Minneapolis. The students were 95% immigrant kids from Africa. I then moved to Kansas City and taught at a school in Kansas City, Kansas located by the Strawberry Hill neighborhood. This was a neighbor again full of immigrant populations. It had a high Spanish speaking population mixed with families from Europe and the Middle East. I saw best friends torn apart because of their family religious beliefs and cultural differences because their families were from neighboring countries that had had conflicts. Poverty was high. Yet we had students excel there. A classroom can be anywhere, even in a jail as it was for Patrick for a while. As a teacher you create the magic, and help bring out the magic in the literature your students are reading. I wonder former students as high schoolers and adults now, and I hope I made a difference in their lives! I worked my butt off trying to do so, and have gotten smarter and more efficient with my teaching every year and will continue to do so, never stopping my own learning. I wonder what I could do with them now!
I love how the author really reflected on her experiences with Patrick in this book and adapted her teaching to meet his needs. She didn’t follow a script, but thought, reflected and taught Patrick what he and other kids needed. This book brought back so many memories. It is worth the read. It drove home many things, from the importance of mentor texts, for your students and yourself, to how students need to be able to make their own meaning as they read without over scaffolding taking place. It really shows how the legal system and society in general does make it hard for someone to make it out of a neighborhood like Patrick’s. It can happen though, and as a teacher you have to believe that or you are wasting the students time and your own. Aways teach with passion and high expectations or get out of the profession like the author did.