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On my first day of student teaching in a low-income community, one child cursed at me; another jumped out of her seat, fell flat on her face, and had to be sent to the nurse’s office with a bloody nose; and a third knocked an iPad out of my hands, cracking the screen. I wanted to cry, or quit, or yell and stomp my feet, but I didn’t do these things. I became a teacher to make a difference, so instead, I explained my classroom expectations, wrote the nurse’s pass, and picked the shattered glass off the floor.

Over the next few months, homework completion increased, behavior improved, and I felt like I was accomplishing something. However, one day, I noticed a child staring out the window at the construction site adjacent to the building.  The student mumbled to himself, “if only school was doing construction work, then I’d have an A-plus.” I was disappointed. How much pedagogy had I applied to the classroom? Flipped instruction, technology-based learning, Socratic circles, multiple intelligences — had these research-based methods not worked?

The truth is that this child, like many in Saint Louis, is a victim: a victim of poverty, a victim of bad teachers, a victim of a weak system, where a child’s future relies on five numbers.

Maybe this student wouldn’t have done better had he been born to a family from the 63017 ZIP code. But what if he had a choice to go to Shining Rivers Waldorf School, where students are encouraged to learn through hands-on activities, or Construction Careers Center, where students prepare for technical careers, while pursuing academic excellence?  If he had a choice, he would have a chance.

Just as I became a teacher to make a difference, I joined the Show-Me Institute team to make a difference. During my time in the classroom, I realized that many of the problems students and teachers face cannot be fixed by a single individual. Many of the problems require us to rethink how we operate our public school system. That is why I am excited to be part of the Show-Me Institute policy team. Our mission is clear — to expand opportunities for students.

I invite you to engage with us and share your ideas. Together, we can build a system that ensures that all students, regardless of the five numbers of their ZIP codes, have access to great schools that meet their needs.

 
Brittany Wagner

About the Author

Brittany Wagner

Brittany Wagner is an education policy research assistant at the Show-Me Institute.