A reader, Karen Taylor, sent the following reflections about her life as a teacher today:

Titanic, 2014

I am finishing the eighth week of my twenty-seventh year of teaching in public schools.

Today I had a startling insight- that somehow I have been given the task of saving the sinking Titanic. Public schools are the Titanic, run aground against icebergs of state-mandated test scores and the failing family structures of our children.

I’m instructed, prodded, encouraged, and held responsible for saving all the students who may have little or no support. And there certainly aren’t enough life rafts or life preservers to meet their needs. There are no other sturdy crafts nearby to rescue them.
I alone am responsible for this future generation.

And the band plays on deck with strains of, “No Child Left Behind”, “Higher Order Thinking Skills”, Hands-on Learning,” and “Data Driven Instruction.” I hear “Key Academic Vocabulary” and “Learning Objectives” played between each set.

And though I hum and sing and dance with all the rhythms, the deck still capsizes. Children are still struggling to hang on until I can reach them.
Believing that “all children can learn” is our lighthouse. All children can learn, as the beam pronounces. Yet as it circles I remember……they can’t all learn in the same way or on a state-mandated timeline.

The lives I save are measured by “my scores”, while in reality, the scores are very faulty life-preservers for our children. Those scores reflect a single moment in time, like a tiny ripple in the ocean of their lives. And many children perform unbelievably well when the reality of their tsunami-riddled lives are filled with abuse, neglect, alcohol, drugs, and hunger, with very little room left over for worry about a test score.

But they hang on, and they try to hum and sing and dance and move, except for when they are distracted by the memory that their dad gets out of prison next week and their mama needs them to babysit tonight because she has to work late.

So I inflate their little life vests with a hug, a joke, a smile. I give them a pencil and read them a book and we laugh, and for a moment, the ship is stable. And they read a book in English for the first time, and we celebrate, and I pretend that the iceberg has melted and we will sail again.

Because I love this big old ship and all the passengers it holds, and I treasure the message of the lighthouse. But the reality of the iceberg is not just sinking our ship. It is bruising and battering those of us who serve it and seek to save our children.