If my father transported himself forward in time to be a student in public schools today, he would be placed in the red section of the school’s data wall as an at-risk student. He is the son of a single mother, raised by his grandmother. His grades were not exceptional. He blew up the chemistry lab several times. He worked after school and I assume this limited the time he spent on his studies. However, he was a smart kid who loved to learn building engines early in his life and building a car in his early teens. School was just not the vehicle for his brain.
My father had big dreams and a strong motivation to achieve more and go farther. By 40 he had lived in four foreign countries and headed major oil operations while towing his family along with him. My dad was and is a very determined human being. He benefited from being married to my amazing mother who dedicated every waking minute to ensuring her children reveled from their combine sacrifices.
In fourth grade I was struggling with fractions. My dad did not even give an ear to my whining, but rather taught me fractions every night he was home until I mastered it. There were no excuses.
In sixth grade we moved to a fairly affluent area in Texas. We lived on my dad’s single salary. I have no idea how my parents afforded my really nice clothes, my participation in multiple activities, and my trips with school groups to lovely events. My mom worked hard to maintain a budget as my parents loathe debt.
When I was 14 I had my first job babysitting a young girl down the street. I made $75 every two weeks. When school clothes shopping came around, my mom told me what she was buying and if I wanted something nicer I could pay the difference. The purple Nikes were not quite as sweet as I thought they would be after I realized I had spent five days of salary to buy the pair. These types of lessons continued through high school. Basically, if I want something, I have to work for it.
When I decided to become a teacher, my dad was really disappointed. I spent years feeling hurt by this fact, but now I have my own kids and I understand. My dad wanted me to have financial security and a job that really challenged my skills. During my first three years of teaching I lived below the poverty line. I remember asking my pastor for a $5 loan so I could buy gas to get to work. I was so ashamed, so I began tutoring to make gas money.
The idea to get any type of assistance never crossed my mind, because I had made the choice to be a teacher. I knew going in I would never be rich. The government nor my family are responsible for my decisions. I had the opportunity to be anything from a doctor to a chemist. Many jobs would have paid me a tremendously greater salary, but I love what I do and God has blessed my family and I. My choices are my choices. The results are solely mine also.
There is this scary thought moving through our country right now, which gives the idea everyone should have an equal share regardless of the work or effort or choices they have put forth. For example, doctors who spent 12 to 15 years of their lives studying are being told to give up their salaries to serve those who did not spend years and thousands of dollars to become doctors. Small business owners who risk their reputations and savings somehow owe to those who took no risks.
In other words, those who have worked and made certain choices must now give and equalize the lives of those who did not. My parents have made more money in their lives than I could probably make in five lifetimes. They owe me nothing ever as their sacrificed has allowed me to be a well-rounded and productive citizen. In fact, if I spent every minute of the rest of my life serving them, I would not make up for what they have done for me.
My choices are my choices and the results are also mine. If you don’t like your life choices, make a change. Do something differently. Work harder. Sacrifice. Your issues are not the fault of a more successful person who made different choices. Envy is the root of much of our woes.
Most of my friends would tell you I am a bleeding heart. I love kids. The worse the behavior, the more difficult the problems, and the crazier the situation, the more I am motivated to assist. The reason I became a teacher is so I could help children, who have been born into less opportunity, find greater opportunity through education. I believe we eliminate poverty, not through welfare, but through teaching people skills, helping them develop work ethic, which increases motivation and self worth, and helping students to transition into productive members of society. Poverty may be a reason for struggles, but it can never be an excuse.
Our country must do a better job educating young people especially by eliminating barriers poverty inflicts on students. The barriers include ineffective teachers who see “these children” as limited and unable. The barriers include dysfunctional programs, which grease a politician’s hand, but do not increase the academic success of students. The barriers include low standards for students who will one day compete in a global market. The barriers include using students as weapons in political wars of race and economics.
If all students in our country were afforded a high-quality education, high-quality job training, and good hard lessons on work ethic and motivation, we would not need to continue to add $1 trillion dollars in debt for welfare as we did in 2011, which is a 32% jump in the past 4 years. A good friend and peer told me once I should never give children something for nothing including pencils because this teaches them work and effort are unrelated to reward. We have created an entire society on the idea that if you don’t work, someone will provide for you. The underlying message the current welfare system has to offer is a person is not worth the time to teach, their contributions to society are not valuable, and they are better off allowing a provider to make choices for them. I simply believe people are worth more than this. I believe people are born to change their worlds. Some change the world in simpler ways and some make magnanimous changes, but all have something to offer.
I adore the children I work with each day. I see bright minds who are inflicted by the low expectations of the adults in their lives. I see children who have tremendous dreams but few people willing to help them find the roadmap to those dreams. I have wonderful conversations with children, who some label as unmotivated, about topics they have been exploring on their own time. How differently would our world work if we spent the time during the first 20 years of life instilling the idea that hard work and good choices lead to a greater chance of success? How differently would our world look if instead of placing kids in the red section of a data wall and using this as an excuse to allow them to fail, we work harder to make a difference in the lives of children? How differently would our world look if we accepted their future is our responsibility?
All children are not given equal opportunity from their home lives to their educational paths. I am a conservative leaning person because I believe enabling people to be dependent limits their freedom to make choices. I believe my civic duty is to support my fellow man, adult or child, in achieving their dreams. I believe all people should be treated as equal members of society regardless of race, religion, creed, or gender. I believe education is the key to equality not welfare. My father demonstrates one can overcome tremendous barriers when one accepts responsibility for choices and stops making excuses for failure. I have dreams for the youth of this country and living on welfare is not one.
I am a teacher, which in a single word, sums up my passions and my belief in the future.