My junior year of college has without a doubt brought a new tone, when compared with the past two years of college. All of a sudden, that scary place called “the real world” is starting to seem ever closer, coming towards me like a freight train to mark the official start of adulthood. It’s both daunting and liberating, terrifying and exhilarating. Amidst the chaos of searching for my place in the future, I am often left feeling completely overwhelmed. At a particular moment of confusion, a friend gave me some advice that has really stuck with me ever since. She challenged me to take a step back from my life of extreme privilege; she reminded me that the so called worries I was facing, over which class to enroll in at a premier university or which internship to accept for the next summer, were complete luxuries.
When I stop and put things in perspective, when I take myself out of the center of my field of view, when I look at the things I’m thankful for as opposed to obsessing over new things I need, the many blessings in my life become ever present. It seems the things I take for granted are exactly what I should be thankful for every day – the ability to read, to count, breath, to laugh without worry, to have food on the table, and friends to call.
This past fall I started volunteering as a high school CoachWrite tutor in Chapel Hill. I was absolutely blown away by how meaningful spending just one hour a week with students could be. I found myself frequently talking to friends and family about stories from my time tutoring and how proud I became of the students in my class, who were just three years younger than I. But as wonderful as my experience has been, it has also opened my eyes to some of the extreme issues that surround the education system. In this small class, the students were performing at such a variety of levels it was impossible to have just one lesson plan and class rarely went as planned. One of my favorite memories is when I came back for the first time after winter break, and they all said, “Ms. Carlton, you came back! We missed you.” It was so encouraging to see that they noticed my presence, as well as my absence. Teachers have the ability to have such an incredible impact on their students – to shape the way the think, learn, reason, care.
I know we are all narrating our pasts and counting our blessings, but I think it is an important place to start as we begin this blog on education policy. Without realizing the value of our own education, which we so often overlook, it’s impossible to analyze the system that’s in place. If we don’t recognize the importance of a functioning school system, where children can read and teachers can facilitate real learning, and students are given fair opportunities, then why would we want to make changes? If it weren’t important to us, we wouldn’t care if there were flaws or discrepancies. It wouldn’t matter what qualified as “grade level” or if students were scoring below it.
I hope that by acknowledging our gratitude for our own education we can become even more inspired to make the necessary changes. It seems to me that educators and students should be the ones defining the classroom, not third party politicians. It might be a little bit idealistic, but hey, we have to start somewhere!