Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An American Education Success Story

Flickr/Douglas Heriot
 There has been a lot of negativity and controversy surrounding the American educational system lately.  I've often criticized some of our practices rather harshly.  It's important that we don't lose sight of what we do well, however.  Teachers have an incredible impact on students, and it's vital that we celebrate those successes, and share those stories as well. 

With that in mind, I'd like to share this short story from a member of my PLN, who has asked to remain anonymous.  The name of the upper-elementary student has also been changed.  It's about the kind of success that has nothing to do with increased test scores.
Kenny walked into my classroom on the first day of school with a big smile, pants that were too short, and dirty sneakers that were too small.  I knew from talking to his past teachers and looking in his file that he was a smart kid who struggled mightily at times because he missed so much school. 

I was happy to see Kenny in school every day the first week.  When the second week of school started, he was absent for five straight days.  Naturally, I became concerned that the pattern of past years was beginning to develop again.  After missing a week he returned to school and I pulled him aside.

"Kenny, how come you miss so much school?" I asked him.  "I'd really like for you to be here more often."

He told me that his family didn't have a car, that they live a few miles from the bus stop, and that he shares a room with his baby brother who keeps him up at times for much of the night.  Sometimes he's too tired to get up, and other times his parents don't wake him up in time to make the bus.

I told Kenny that I was going to get him an alarm clock. Kenny and I both agreed that from now on it would be his responsibility, and not his parents' responsibility, to get himself to school.  If there was a day where he was really tired from being up all night that he should still come to school and see me first thing in the morning.  I promised that on those days I would find a time and place for him to nap.

Kenny was absent the next few days.  I bought an alarm clock from the local hardware store and placed it on his desk.  When he got back to school I reminded him of our conversation and reinforced how important it was to me that he makes it to school.

The following morning he came into my classroom with a huge smile on his face.  He couldn't wait to tell me how he'd set his alarm clock for 1/2 hour earlier than normal, and how it was the first time he'd had a chance to eat breakfast before school all year.  He was absolutely glowing.

It's been three weeks.  Kenny hasn't missed a day of school since he started using the alarm clock.  On one day he came to me and told me that he didn't fall asleep until well after midnight and that his brother kept waking him up during the night.  He actually slept in the nurse's office from 8AM until 12:30 that day.  I made sure to tell him how proud I was that he made it to school that day.  What I'm most proud of is that he is learning responsibility skills that will help him throughout his life. 
Teachers do amazing things that can't be measured on standardized tests every day.  Whether Kenny is "proficient" or "basic" on this year's state test is inconsequential compared to the personal responsibility he is learning.  That is what teaching is about.  That's what our schools should be about.  This is the kind of teaching we need to be encouraging.


  1. Such an easy solution for children who want to go to school but circumstances don't always allow them to get there on time.

  2. We work with a school who had a similar problem with a group of students so they set up their school emergency calling system to call this small group of students early in the morning to wake them up. Simple, yet effective. Love hearing stories like these!