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How Did We Get Here?

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, and I hope I get a chance to sift through it on here over the next few days. In the meantime, there’s one incident stuck on my mind.

It happened the other day when one of my students got caught with his finger up his nose by the math cluster teacher. She sent him to wash his hands and I escorted him to the sink in our classroom to help him out. He’s a third grader who can’t tie his shoes and can’t really use scissors, so I figured he might need some help using the faucet and the soap.

As he was soaping up I thought it was a good opportunity for a quick hygiene tip: “Do you know a good way to know if you’ve washed for long enough? You can sing your ABC’s while you soap.”

“I don’t know my ABC’s.”

These are the kinds statements that slap you in the face and leave you stunned. I pointed him out the the alphabet hanging on the wall and helped him sing through the ABC’s. But I could barely think of anything to say.

This particular kid isn’t even the worst reader in my class. He knows his letters and sounds. So maybe knowing his ABC’s isn’t essential (?!), but it still kind of catches you off guard to hear that in a third grade classroom, and it leaves you wondering, how did a student get here with so much missing. It’s true of basic math facts (8+2, 12-5), basic spelling and a wide range of fundamental knowledge that’s just not there. It leaves you feeling frustrated and sometimes angry, but more often than not it’s just plain heartbreaking.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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