It is Not a Teacher Effectiveness Problem. It is a Poverty Problem.

I read an article today on CBSNews.com that profiled homeless children in America.  The families that were profiled were from Seminole County, Florida, where I live and work as a teacher.  I recognized the name of one of the students, Destiny Corfee, who was profiled, but couldn’t remember where I had heard that name before. I called our school counselor and she looked up the name and told me that the young 11 year old went to an elementary school in a nearby town. Then it hit me where I had heard her name.

Months ago, my children and I had made a trip to McDonalds to buy some sweet tea. It was a scorching hot day and we needed something ice-cold to drink to bring home with us in preparation for some yard work. We saw a couple sitting on a curb near the drive through. The man was holding a cardboard sign that read, “Please Help: Family of 5″.  To be honest, I was initially shocked to see people there in my middle-class suburb begging for help, but I quickly reminded myself that we have been dealing with some tough economic times lately in America and that more and more Floridians were dropping into poverty and homelessness, even in my neighborhood. 

I walked over to the couple to ask how I could help. The father explained that they had lost their jobs and home and were living out of a motel.  We talked about their kids and the father explained that his kids were doing good in school but that he was concerned about them now that they were homeless.  Since I am a teacher, I was aware that our school district will help homeless students to stay in the same school, if possible.  Long story short, I gave them a contact at our school district to call and ask that their kids stay in the same school. I also took down their kids’ names to later refer them to our districts’ Families in Transition program.  After chatting with the couple for about 15 minutes, my kids and I left them with some cash, something to eat and some cold sweet teas to sip on while they sat in the hot sun.

That whole incident stuck with me for weeks. Eventually, with time, the memory of this faded until today when I saw the name of Destiny Corfee in the CBSNews.com article on homeless students.  Destiny was the name of the homeless couple’s daughter that I had met months back at that McDonalds restaurant parking lot. Here now, months later, I was reading about her and seeing her smiling face on a 60 Minutes video that profiled homeless children in Seminole County. I now had a face to the name, and what a wonderful kid she was in the 60 Minutes interview. I was so impressed with both her and her older brother, Jorge, during their interview. I was sad to hear that Jorge had dropped out of high school. So many kids, like him, drop out due to economic reasons. My hope is that he will return to school if he can.

Watching the 60 Minutes video was heartwrenching, and hearing the children talk about what hunger felt like and what they had to do to try and study when their electricity was off in the house, made me cry. I deal with many homeless children at my school, but hearing and seeing that many children together pour their hearts out on camera and talk about what it feels like to be homeless, really got to me. Seeing that couple, that I had met in the McDonalds parking lot, being interviewed on 60 Minutes made me realize how small our world really is and how many of us are just one or two paychecks away from falling right into poverty and homelessness.

One of the children’s stories about using candles to study by when their electricity was shut off reminded me of one of my students, two years ago, whose house had burned down because they had used candles for light when their electricity was shut off. So many tragic stories like this come out of Seminole County, and many places across America, and I am hearing more and more of them, lately.

After I viewed the 60 Minutes video I became angry because as a teacher it is me who is blamed by people like, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and President Obama, for poor kids being behind academically.  It is me who is bashed in the media for not being “effective” enough to bring up their test scores on par with kids who do not live in poverty. In fact, it is me who is blamed for kids being in poverty because I am too lazy, “status quo”, not “effective”, not hard-working, and, well, “insert here” just about any insult concerning my job and it is me as a teacher in America.

I think our nation’s politicans, hedge-fund managers, bankers, and some billionaires should take a look in the mirror. I blame them for ignoring poverty and, instead, focusing their efforts on blaming overworked teachers. I blame these greedy bastards for neglecting poor communities while they collude to set up profit centers and charter schools to cash in on Race to the Top initiatives and the push to privatize education.

I think our nation’s leaders, billionaires and politicians need to take a step back and look at all of the hardships they have created as a result of their greed and egos. My hope is that they will see the 60 Minutes video. For it to all sink in, to really, really sink in, I think they will need to view it more than the three times I did to realize the root of the problems we are seeing in America….it is not a teacher effectiveness problem. It is a severe poverty problem.

A CBS affiliate, Local 6, did a followup interview to their feature on 60 Minutes of the Corfee family.  The couple had one asset left and that was their family van. After that interview, their van was repossessed. Makes me wonder how many more Americans will be stripped of every possession they own because of the greed of a few. When will it stop?

3 Comments to “It is Not a Teacher Effectiveness Problem. It is a Poverty Problem.”

  1. It’s quite an eye-opening message, yet I had to wonder about the messenger. You know the saying goes that you are not supposed to shoot him or her? And I wouldn’t, but how ironic is it to see reporters like him with well-paying jobs themselves reporting on such an issue. I wonder if he dug deeply in his pocket to be charitable to them?

  2. It’s astonishing how much blaming goes on. Teachers “must be to blame” when students struggle academically. Parents “must be lazy” when they’re out of work for months on end and no longer have health care or a way to pay the rent. People are so quick to assume the worst of others because it’s a way of denying that it could ever happen to anybody who doesn’t “deserve” it, or that anything needs to be done by society to address the problem.  If your teaching alone can’t lift those children out of poverty it *must* mean that you’re not effective teacher or that the families are lazy. Otherwise folks would have to admit that society actually needs to DO something to address poverty in our country, and that poverty isn’t something people experience as some cosmic punishment for their laziness. 

  3. As a teacher knowing the background on our students sometimes leaves me in plain awe at what my students do accomplish; other times I can only cry and do my best to be their stability and safe environment.

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