“The Hidden Truth” in the Hartford Classrooms

By Danielle Roberts, Op-Ed

It is no secret that teachers in an urban environment, like Hartford, face challenges.

These challenges come in the form of low test scores, environmental issues, stubborn students and apathetic parents.  But, what exactly, is at the root of these challenges?

Many are quick to blame teachers for not doing a “good enough” job, while others are quick to blame parents, for not being on the same page as teachers and fully supporting education.  But very few people point the finger at the students themselves.  And as a substitute teacher in the Hartford school system, I think it’s only fitting that in a discussion on urban education, one must first look at the students.  What type of mindset do the majority of these students have?  How do they feel about education?  Do they come to school ready and willing to learn?

The answers to these questions, as it applies to the majority of Hartford students, are a big, resounding “NO”.  I am in no way generalizing all Hartford students, but focusing on the ones who do not revere education and exude it in their dispositions.  If a student comes to school with an intense hatred towards learning, a hostile attitude, accompanied with a willingness to be disrespectful to school administration…where does that leave the teachers, both permanent and substitute alike?

It is grossly unfair to blame teachers for underperforming students when the students have made it up in their minds that they don’t want to perform in the first place.  The job of the teacher is simply to educate.  It is not to transform the mindset of students, but work on instilling knowledge in the minds of students.

So if it’s not the job of the teachers to transform the mindset of students who have a negative mentality towards education, whose job is it?  It is the job of the parents to make sure that their children enter school with the ‘right’ mindset; one that is focused on education, ambition and ultimately setting and achieving some professional goals.  Now that we have defined the roles of teacher and parents, it’s time to define the roles of the students.

It is the job of the students to have internal motivation and ambition so that they will want to make the most of their educational experience…and so they will want to do more for themselves, not just in school; but in life as well.  This internal drive should develop naturally in a child, but it should also be honed on a continuous basis by their parents and their families of origin.  Because after all, if a child is naturally passionate about school and excited about their future–but they are living in an environment where school is downplayed and education is not revered–it should only be expected that this child will begin to lose their passion and excitement towards school.  They will begin to take on the persona of the parents (who are very influential in the minds of the kids), regardless of how they initially felt.  I have experienced this firsthand.

As a substitute teacher, I often found myself trying to motivate students to complete assignments left by the classroom teacher, only to be shocked by their retorts.  “Miss, when am I going to need this stuff in real life?” and “I don’t want to be here, and my mom said that if I get bored to just call her, and she’ll come get me…so can I call her?”  This is why parents and their kids must work together; it must be a continuous, joint effort so that students enter school with a positive mindset, thus making the job of educators much easier.

If parents and students took control of the parts that they play in shaping a student’s mindset towards education, teachers would have a slightly easier job, with less unreasonable expectations placed on them.  And that’s the hidden truth.

Danielle Roberts is a substitute teacher in Hartford Public Schools and an intern with The Hartford Guardian.

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