This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Response to June 4 commentary, “Educators can help potential dropouts by learning the language of data,” by Ami Patel Hopkins, Icy Jones, Daniel Schiff, and Darren Spielman.
“Language of data” will save students from dropping out of high school? My view, as a teacher in Philadelphia since 1998, is that no language of deficiency and failure will save anyone.
Looking at what students cannot do simply leaves us with many impossible situations. The medical approach does not work. The words “at risk” and “poor behavior” and “failure” limit our students and provide no guidance or space to dream.
“At risk” means more “teacher-proof curriculum” will be launched into your school. “Poor behavior” means fewer field trips, fewer guest artists, less music. “Failure” means no STEM, no STEAM, and no time to dream.
Teachers have learned this language, and we know we don’t want it.
We want to see “the light in the eyes” of our students, as Sonia Nieto writes. We want to hear them, through the pain, through the realness of what it means to be human. We want to create curriculum that responds to their interests and drives them to be curious. We want to create spaces where they can learn.
Learning the language of data of deficiency will not solve the very real issues our students and their families face every day. Learning a language of possibility, looking at student work through an appreciative inquiry stance, and creating close relationships with parents and caregivers and community leaders will make Philadelphia the best place to go to school in the country.
I am an educator. I do not need you to teach me what my students can’t do or what they have problems with. I want a sacrosanct space where we discuss students not through a data that surfaces their deficiencies, but instead with a respect for everything they are and will be.
The writer is a Spanish teacher at Hill-Freedman World Academy.