I was blessed to teach for several years for supplemental education programs at the University of Michigan-Flint and Eastern Michigan University. My students ranged from juniors in high school to freshmen in college. Each experience had its fair share of challenges, but just as students learn the ways of a teacher in order to perform better academically, I learned from my students in order to be a better instructor. Those were exciting times and I miss them greatly.
As heavily criticized as teachers are, and as often as I levy criticism against educational institutions, I know that teaching is not easy. Teachers are charged with a very difficult task: pushing a student to reach a higher standard. Many are good at this task, and many are not. Those who enjoy what they do often meet with more success than those who do not. Nevertheless, the mission is always to leave the student better off than he or she was before instruction.
As clear as the mission is, accomplishing it is not so simple. There are numerous factors that work in concert to thwart the efforts of the instructor. The will of the student is the principal factor; if he or she does not care to learn, there is very little a teacher can do to teach effectively. If there is a lack of positive reinforcement at home, what is taught by day is quickly disregarded by night. This occurrence is akin to the “seed that falls of rocky ground” in the parable of the sower. Often the students with no roots—that is, support system at home—will “last only a short time.” Another impediment to effective instruction can be the prohibitions placed on teachers by administrative and legislative bodies. Political restrictions claiming to be in the best interest of students are often in the best interest of politicians, with the parents, teachers and students all losing out in the end (as a side note, when special interests interfere with educational freedoms, I advise the reader to follow the money to determine why certain measures are taken. I repeat, set your political allegiances and assumptions aside and follow the money).
With so many bumps in the road on the journey to effective education, it can seem impossible. But we know these challenges can be overcome because of our own testimonies and the testimonies of others. In my experience, I had plenty of teachers whom I thoroughly enjoyed as a student and plenty of students whom I was able to get through to as a teacher. Two of my most gratifying experiences include returning to a former teacher and presenting my accomplishments as a way to praise them for their work, and receiving praise from former students for what I have done for them.
Concerning challenges in demographics, the great majority of my students were inner-city black youth from low income families in Flint and Detroit. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to instruct these students because I am familiar with their situation, having been an inner-city black youth from a low income family, too. It was a challenge getting through to these students at times, but that only served to make overcoming the challenges all the more gratifying, and it ultimately made me a better teacher. I never compromised my standard, and my students never failed to reach it. And if I had compromised my standard, I would have failed my students. Our youth in Flint are capable of so much more than we adults tend to believe them capable of. It takes love and patience and trust to see more challenging students through to a glorious future. I am thankful to have been given the opportunity to exhibit this love and patience and trust, and I salute those teachers who have dedicated themselves to exhibiting the same, who do this for the sake of their students. So, here’s to you, the teachers of our great community. May your desire stay strong, may your technique be unique and ever evolving to address new challenges, and may your students always meet the standard you set before them.