When I was in the sixth grade, I loved checking out books from my teacher’s classroom library. Because my parents bought a new house that year, for the first time in my life, I no longer had to share a bedroom with my sisters. Also for the first time in my life I had a locker. When I saw a book that looked like it might be good, I checked it out and stored it in said locker. On Friday afternoons, I would pack up as many books as I could carry home, set myself up on my bed with a glass of water and a bowl full of sunflower seeds, and read for as much of the weekend as I could. It was a magical time in my life.
Then one day my teacher discovered that I had a stash of her books piled up in my locker - all the ones I knew I wanted to read eventually, probably 10-15 total - and she instituted a 3 book maximum and crushed all my hopes and dreams.
Seventh grade was the year I decided books weren’t really cool anymore, and I didn’t remember that I love to read again until I was a college student. I spent most of my adolescence trying to fit in and be popular (shocking, I know), so reading for my own enjoyment/edification was less of a priority for a handful of years.
Luckily for me, I’d been given a pretty decent start by parents who read to me all the time when I was a small child. My mom took me on regular trips to the library when I was an elementary school student, and my parents intentionally chose to live where they did because the school district was widely considered one of the best in the state. I don’t believe I was ever at risk of falling on the wrong side of the achievement gap.
It’s no secret that the achievement gap in America persists. According to the National Council of Teachers of English, “The achievement gap can be decreased in individual schools via strong leadership, support for teachers, and a long-term, research-based approach to the specific school’s needs.”
Did you catch that?
SUPPORT FOR TEACHERS?
I know for a fact that the last school I worked at has reading intervention for struggling readers built into the schedule every day. The fact that it’s built in on a daily basis is a good thing, no question. However, it’s 45 minutes per day and the student:teacher ratio is approximately 20:1. Not good odds for those struggling readers, my friends. At best, maybe 2 minutes of one-on-one instruction per day. And let’s not kid ourselves - the struggling readers mostly have the same color skin and mostly come from the families with the least money.
I’m about to get preachy for a minute.
As American taxpayers, our schools are an investment that we all share. If we’re not doing everything we can to make sure our money’s doing what it should for our schools, we ought not complain about the quality of the outcomes, amen? If you’re not showing up to your neighborhood school regularly to find out what they need help with and how you can get involved, you don’t get to complain about our nation’s failing system of education.
Here’s the deal: I’m committing to showing up to my neighborhood school once a week to help out one of those teachers working with 20 struggling readers. I won’t singlehandedly close the achievement gap at that school, but I will be doing my part. Will you join me? Will you find a way to serve the students and teachers at one of your neighborhood schools? There are a zillion different things you could do to help out a school - seriously, from guest teaching part of a class to supervising lunch/recess to making copies - and it all adds up to one big whole awesome thing that our country should be doing better than any other.
During the month of December, I'm teaming up with Denver Rescue Mission and a bunch of other people who write on The Internet to #servedenver. This can certainly be a busy time of year, but we'd love for you to join us from wherever you are, however you can.