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Teaching The “Toughest Kids” Is The Finest Place To Be Right Now

Photo: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock
teacher helping students

The National Education Association (NEA) released a poll citing information we’ve all become drearily accustomed to hearing: educators are fleeing the profession in huge numbers and planning to leave as soon as this year ends at alarming rates.

They’re leaving because of old issues we’ve been hearing for decades: low pay, lack of administrative support, behavior issues, and burnout.

But they’re also now leaving because of all the student absences due to COVID, the staff shortages and lack of substitute teachers, the parents attacking them over blatantly false political issues and ideologies that, even if they were true, teachers would have little to no control over.

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I’ve seen all of this firsthand as an academic coach working with English learners in newcomer programs in middle and high schools, some of the hardest to fill positions there are. This year, I have spent more than half of my time subbing, with the majority of all of the teachers and students contracting COVID at least once.

There is no continuity in the education of these students, and most of them are failing most, if not all, of their core classes, which means they will not receive credit.

Which means they will not gain a high school diploma.

This means many of them will drop out, stop even trying.

This is exactly what’s happening everywhere across the country, right now, to all of our kids.

If something doesn’t change, a generation of uneducated adults, fuller prisons, homeless adults, jobless individuals, and higher rates of mental and physical illness is our only future.

So yes, this is some serious doomsday stuff. It really is.

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A recent study by McKinsey & Company, “suggests that, unless steps are taken to address unfinished learning, today’s students may earn $49,000 to $61,000 less over their life owing to the impact of the pandemic on their schooling.”

Sad for them, right? Really tough life these kids are getting into, and we all genuinely feel for them and these teachers. Some of us are these teachers, or are married to or are friends with these teachers, and most of us are parents to these kids, so we really get how dire those statistics are. But let’s dig a little deeper, into how this impacts all of us, the literal future of us, as in the US.

The study goes on to point out that the impact on the US economy, “could amount to $128 billion to $188 billion every year as this cohort enters the workforce.”

We all have read by now about the inequities in these gaps, with students of color, English learners, and economically disadvantaged (Title One) students far behind peers not in those categories.

What all of this information can teach us is how to educate noneducators why teaching the “toughest kids” right now is exactly the right place to be.

I can honestly say I have the greatest job in the world for me. I have loved it from the very first year I started, even though that year was through one of the first cohorts in the New York City Teaching Fellows Program, which places top-performing graduates and career changers in the lowest-performing schools.

At the time, that was Bushwick, Brooklyn.

I’ve always served the “toughest kids,” and that’s led me to work with the refugee and immigrant populations in my current role supporting teachers and the largest district in my state. I do this for a reason.

They feed me more than I feed them, honestly, and they understand the kind of future I see and want for everyone. They see and understand it deeply because they have witnessed and lived and often still do live the opposite.

They aren’t handed what they need from the moment they come into the world, they understand the struggle in a deep, fundamental way, as an integral part of who they are.

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That’s why they push and fight and pretend like they don’t care.

They can see inauthenticity from a mile away and they’ll balk at it.

The “toughest kids” want change, and they want it now, and we need to work to ensure they don’t lose the desire to push for that change.

What educators are doing right now is working to ensure that the literal future, the future economy, the future roads and cities and hospitals and infrastructures for all of our children, the future care we all receive as elderly people regardless of our economic status, is a sound and ethical one.

So yes, we should be investing in our teachers and our schools and we must pay attention.

We must pay close attention and understand the consequences of not doing so, and it’s not just losing childcare for a while with the option of homeschooling.

We also must be investing in our Title One, English Learner, Special Education, and diverse populations and encouraging and training teachers to understand the joy and profound meaning that can be derived from this job, this profession that literally shapes futures and lives.

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We are beyond lucky, those of us who get to work with these kids. I know I am.

Jenny Mundy-Castle is the author of Every Time I Didn't Say No, her memoir inspired by educating high-trauma youth in New York, New Mexico, and Nigeria.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.