∆ Jackson

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 05 2013

What does a high school diploma mean to you?

Today, I found out that for one of my students, if he can hang on two and half more years, he will be the first in his family to graduate high school.  Not the first to graduate college, not even the first to go to college, but the first to graduate high school.

The news hit me like a ton of bricks.

Maybe he is not my only students for whom this is true, but it is the first time I realized that this is his reality and may be the reality for others who sit in my classroom each day.

He does not feel like he can amount to anything, because, in his eyes, no one else in his family ever has.  He told me today that you are like those that come before you in your family.  He said if he can graduate high school he will accomplish more than anyone else in his family ever has.  His father and older brother? In prison.  His mother? Had to drop out to take care of her sick mother.  Him?

“I just want to graduate, Ms K, so I have that piece of paper that says I actually did something with my brain.”

“And then what?”

“And then I want to get a job where I can make money legally, so I don’t have to be so poor and so that I won’t go to jail.”

It maybe seems to us like a dream that shoots too low.  It might seem like he should have higher expectations for himself.  But after discussing it in length with him, he doesn’t understand how to have higher expectations.  He doesn’t understand that he can choose his destiny.  He doesn’t understand that he is his own person, that his family helps to shape him but does not decide WHO he is.

And why should he?  He has never seen that happen in his life.  He has not seen someone take control of their own future.  He has seen people who have not graduated high school, he has seen that he “gets by” but does not do very well in school, and he has decided he wants to graduate.  Who am I to judge how big or small his dream is?

I hope I can work with him this year and help him to grow his dream maybe a little bit bigger, but at the very least, I will be his biggest cheerleader as he works toward achieving his goal, no matter how big or small.

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