The K-5th grade performed Christmas songs and professionally-choreographed dance routines in the school auditorium. Foote School did something similar for all of my childhood winter assemblies…but none like this. The stage had professional light crew and smoke machines, parents spent absurd amounts of money for their children’s Arts Festival costumes, flower venders lined the back wall of the auditorium so that patents could purchase roses to give to their 6 year-old performers who sang Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer. Parents hired professional photographers to make sure their children looked picture-perfect. To say that the assembly was “over the top” would be an understatement.
Last year when I worked at Achievement First, we also had a winter assembly where children wore Santa hats and played the recorder and piano. It was very warm and homey. Parents filmed their children on their cell phones. The only dress code was for students to wear Christmas colors. Our school did not have its own auditorium or gymnasium, so students and teachers had to take the subway over to another school so that we could use their auditorium for an evening.
Neither school performance was better nor worse, they cannot even be compared. Apples and oranges. I feel lucky to be able to experience these two extremes. After working in a school for low-income students in East New York to now working at one of the most prestigious primary schools in China, I feel like nobody understands the Achievement Gap as well as I do. It’s real. It is not fair, but it is very very real.
My 6 year-olds read on a 5th grade reading level, whereas several of my 5th graders last year were reading on a 2nd grade reading level. My 1st graders at SHSID can already do division, read improper fractions and mixed numbers, define a rectangular prism, and draw a line graph. It is amazing what is possible when students have full-time private tutors and stay-at-home mothers. Sometimes I feel angry or even guilty that my students in East New York were not born into that kind of luck, but that’s life.
Despite the privileges my students at SHSID are given at such a young age, I know that in the end, it truly takes hard work and self-motivation to feel success and accomplishment. I am confident that many of my students from Achievement First will go off to become future world leaders even though they weren’t born with the same privileges and opportunities. They will just have to work a lot harder.
Whether I am teaching children in poverty who are in and out of homeless shelters or students who come from the wealthiest of the wealthy, it is rewarding to know I am shaping their little minds and impacting their life, their families and their communities. At the end of the day, they are all kids. They all tattletale on their peers. They all pick their noses and wipe their boogers under their desks. They all find the short cuts on their homework. They are all motivated by stickers and stamps. They all want the newest toys. They all want to please me and feel sad when they let me down.
I love teaching all of them and appreciate the differences they bring to the table. My job never gets boring.