A teacher plays many parts in the life of a child. We are: organizer, entertainer, taskmaster, role model, and rental parent. For a middle school teacher like me, all of these are shoved into 50 minutes a day and I honestly do my best everyday to do all that. But there’s always the specter of state testing, something we technically aren’t supposed to prepare our kids for but has become the gold standard of a school’s success.
Every teacher knows that a student’s high or low scores are not just because of the 50 minutes we have them each day. I’ve taught through the spectrum of socioeconomic status and everyone experiences divorce, loss, and setbacks and the pattern is the same; emotional struggle within a child that outpaces his or her emotional intelligence creates academic setbacks.
Can I as a teacher solve those problems? No. But we as a community are responsible for doing our best to provide kids with the opportunity to grow intellectually and emotionally in order to prepare them to deal with life’s setbacks. It’s called teaching the whole child and we aren’t effectively doing it because we are ignoring the opportunity of afterschool programs. More accurately, we view afterschool as support for the day when it could be so much more.
I deal with kids every day who simply don’t have the support at home to grow emotionally, some because they literally don’t have their mom anymore. She was deported or put in prison. And those kids don’t have the capacity to set aside the fact she isn’t there to feed them and love them and clothe them and wake them up in time to get to school promptly. So, when I say it’s time to discuss Rosseau’s Social Contract, they don’t care because they simply can’t until they get more emotional support to deal with life.
But, we CAN do a better job of helping them. State testing precludes effective emotional growth inside that 50-minute period. We need to reform and refine our approach to afterschool programs by creating opportunities to foster growth in the whole child between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., when it’s needed most.
I have a few ideas on how to accomplish this. We need student-run community gardens on every campus with engaging culinary programs to build awareness and skills that lead to better eating habits and health. We need martial arts programs like Karate, Yoga, and Tai Chi that foster better self-discipline, confidence, and respect. We need our kids to start learning about philosophy and politics, so they may begin engaging in the ideas that drive life and through that knowledge, respect the differences around them. Finally, instead of what I call “warehouse tutoring”, we need proactive reading and math instruction by certificated teachers to build the skills many students lack, but teachers in the regular day don’t have the time to target.
I want to see real and meaningful education reform in Los Angeles, but we need leaders who are ready to engage in education reform that is both possible and proactive. I think that starts by targeting the afterschool programs from the perspective that they are autonomous models of education that should consider the whole child.