A few years ago, one of the administrators at my school had this to say about students who weren’t completing small homework tasks like having tests signed: “Let’s not forget what these kids’ lives are like. Maybe getting a test signed isn’t the most important thing on their minds when they go home.”
I was impressed by this person’s candor, given the culture of homework expectations promoted by NYC. I appreciated the perspective.
If you’ve never worked with students who live in poverty (or lived it yourself) it is hard to comprehend how things can be. To be fair, even having worked with students from families that sometimes struggle to put food on the table (as I was told in my interview) for four years, I do not have a full grasp on the hardships they endure.
Yet hardship is obvious in the clothing they wear, often badly stained, torn, and tight. It is obvious in the “breakfasts” and “lunches” of chips and sugary drinks that they bring. It is obvious in the sad faces that look back at me anytime we have a trip or other monetary obligation to deal with.
So, while one administrator castigated us for worrying so darn much about a test being signed, I am reminded of something my mother once said that I still hold to be true: “Given everything some kids are up against, it is amazing they do as well as they do.”
And it’s true. Sometimes the odds are so greatly stacked against our students that only a fool would bet on their success. Yet, then they go and surprise us.
Let’s not promote certain “necessities” (like getting a test signed) at the expense of true necessities (like being safe, having food, and staying warm). If a test takes a few more days to come back, let’s surely pursue it, but with the understanding that there might be other things on the family’s mind.
Let’s acknowledge that poverty has a significant influence on a student’s ability to perform (not learn) in school. Let’s not make excuses, but at least let’s be understanding.
Let’s keep things in perspective.