Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine you are at a beach on a beautiful, sunny day. The calm breeze and the rolling waves create a harmony that fulfills your soul.
Your mission on this gorgeous day is to build a sandcastle. Not just any sandcastle; the tallest, strongest and most ornate structure you have ever imagined! You spend all day working on the sandcastle, sweating, and pouring your heart into this masterpiece. You walk away at sunset, beaming with pride and satisfaction.
You arrive at the same beach on the very next day and see that your sandcastle has been destroyed by the waves that rolled in with the high tide. While some remnants remain, the castle that you left standing yesterday is no longer there. You begin again and spend another full day, starting from scratch, on your craft. But it doesn’t last for long.
Day after day you return to the beach and rebuild your castle. Some days are better than others. Yet, you spend nearly 200 days doing the same thing with similar results. How do you feel?
Would you say you have made progress? Are you frustrated that any progress you make daily is ripped away each night? Who are you frustrated with: the sandcastles, the waves, yourself? Or something bigger?
I have spent the past 189 school days building sandcastles in a high-poverty school. I have worked harder each day this school year than ever before and yet I see similar results today, in June, as I did last August. Some may say that, by definition, what I do is insane. And I’m here to admit…they might be right.
My students are living in generational poverty. Due to circumstances beyond their control, my students and their families face many more of life’s obstacles than the norm. Teaching and learning in a high-needs school has many challenges, too. But the biggest challenge to me is the tide.
While my school has dozens of hard-working, highly-effective, and empathetic teachers devoting hundreds of days to building them up, the students are torn back down every time they step onto the bus. I am here to tell you, first hand, that the tide is stronger than what we can build in eight hours. The tide is stronger than the education system.
If we want our masterpieces to stand tall and firm, the public education system must change. The social justice system must change. Our nation’s views on poverty, success, and everything in between must change. As long as we keep ignoring the issues that keep our impoverished students at a disadvantage, students and teachers will just have to continue to build sandcastles…that is, until we run out of sand.