I often ask myself how on earth I ended up here. My answers vary from, “because you’re an idiot,” to “because you’re a majestic soul.” At the core of it though, the first step I took on this journey was motivated by my friend’s inspiring tale of transformational change. She (a cute little 22-year old sorority girl with a big heart like myself) taught 12th grade English. She turned around a group of kids who weren’t planning on going to college to a group of college-bound high school graduates in just nine months. She’s a rockstar. I wanted to be her. I want to be her.
So, I came here. The plan was two-fold.
Step 1) Teach math to a gaggle of unmotivated high school seniors.
Step 2) Magically inspire them all to attend a four-year college and help them make all their dreams come true.
It wasn’t entirely unrealistic. I have a pretty good understanding of the college application process. I’d tell them about my incredible college experience. I’d motivate them with statistics about the financial benefits of a college degree. Then together, we’d study for the SAT, pick out colleges to apply to, write essays, apply for scholarships, and send in the deposit before the May 1 deadline. It would be a lot of work, but it was (and is) something I am committed to.
I knew (and know) that there were (and are) many barriers standing between my kids and Harvard. The financial burden alone is overwhelming. I had an idea that my kids weren’t going to want to go far from home. I thought they might have families, siblings, or even daughters and sons to look after. I would stick to colleges in the Carolinas, or Georgia. I tried to imagine every possible roadblock, and I would try to find a remedy. I would drive them myself to tour colleges. I would call admissions offices to explain circumstances, to clarify policies. It was going to work. This was my plan. This was why I came here.
I never imagined that the most critical factor standing between my kids and college was the simple fact that they aren’t college ready. Yes, I get frustrated that they can’t think critically, but even if they could, they can’t write in complete sentences. I ask for an estimate of the height of the room, and after they spend way too much time thinking about it, I get answers that range from 200 cm to 200 feet. I ask them to explain their answer in a few sentences, and they do, but when I read their responses, mentally I have to rearrange the words, change the subject to match the verb, put the verb in the right tense, and then correct the spelling. Word problems are confusing to them half because they’re word problems, but half because they just find words to be confusing.
My sister (who I love the most) spent thirteen years at a lower/middle/upper school where the singular mission was to prepare its students for college. She failed chemistry her first semester of college. If that is what happens to my sister – bright, intelligent, from a well-educated family with a strong education behind her – what will happen to my students?