I recently wrote a letter to the editor at The Washington Post about a recent article that I felt unfairly portrayed student poverty as the most significant obstacle for teachers. The letter was published, but it was edited for length and omitted any mention about my concern about the article’s slant. In that spirit, I am publishing the entire letter below.
As a former public school teacher who spent more than 15 years teaching in high-poverty schools in New York City, I read with mixed feelings the June 9 story titled,
Student Poverty, Lack of Parental Involvement Cited as Teacher Concerns. While I appreciate any story that focuses on the viewpoints of teachers and their challenges in the classroom, I find it unsettling to read stories that seem bent on perpetuating the defeatist narrative that student poverty is destiny in our nation’s classrooms. The story opened with the idea that poverty is the teachers’ biggest problem, when, in fact, the survey results show that poverty is actually ranked number 7, behind “weak administrators.” Then it includes a quote that seems to suggest poor children are the only ones who bring problems into the classroom, which forces teachers to address “the needs of a few students at the expense of an entire classroom.” How then do you explain those traditional public schools like Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, New York City, which under the leadership of Dr. Lorraine Monroe and Dr. Gregory Hodge had 100 percent of its graduates accepted to four-year colleges and universities? How do you explain public charter schools like IDEA Public Schools, which operate in the most poverty-stricken areas of Texas yet 100 percent of their
2012 graduates went to college? I know firsthand that family poverty can be an obstacle to learning, but what are we solving by stigmatizing poor children instead of focusing on the bigger factors that teachers identified and over which schools have some control—parent engagement and strong district support? We have a choice: We can just keep wringing our hands over societal ills outside of schools, or we can act to better educate our most vulnerable children.
Malene Lawrence is a native New Yorker who taught for 15 years in traditional, charter and private schools in New York City and upstate New York. She now lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Malene Lawrence is a native New Yorker who taught for 15 years in traditional, charter and private schools in New York City and upstate New York. She is now living in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband, a principal, and raising two sons who attend different charter schools.