40/40 Led Me to 20/20

By Destinee Hodge May 5th, 2014 5:00 PM

Almost three years ago, I stepped through the doors of Kelly Miller Middle School having little idea what to expect. I had heard the good, the bad, and the ugly during my training about individual teacher’s experiences working in one of DC’s lowest 40 performing schools. Going into an environment with many underperforming students and wanting to see them succeed was a very daunting task. I remember wanting to approach my students and new school community with an optimistic yet realistic mentality. How could I have high expectations while not being naïve toward possible student behaviors and mindsets? It seemed like an impossible balance to strike. Whether or not I acknowledged it then, I had pre-conceived notions about how this journey would go.  These mind-sets were based on my past education experiences and what other people told me to expect.

If I had the chance to go back three years and give myself some advice, I’d share what I understand now more than ever— at the end of the day, my students and I are both human beings. That mutual humanity is what brings me back each morning. Are there days where students are disrespectful? Yes. Have I ever witnessed inappropriate behavior from students? Yes. Have my students thrown me a surprise birthday party? Yes. Have they shown an incredible enthusiasm and tenacity for learning a new language? Absolutely.

This duality is my daily experience. As many frustrations as I may have about student behaviors and administrative expectations, I have enough positive experiences by virtue of student relationships to create a harmonious balance in my life. The bond I have with my current eighth graders is an excellent example of how both the positive and negative elements in a low-performing school environment can balance out. Over time, the relationships I’ve built with my students have contributed to a better classroom environment. There is a shared understanding that my classroom is not just Srta. Hodge’s room, but rather a place where foreign language instruction lives in the minds and voices of every student I teach.

I now see it as my duty to pass this perspective to people who are considering working in one of the District’s 40/40 schools or those who are already on their way there. No single story, experience or viewpoint should shape your mindset going into this position. In your classroom, there will be difficulty and there will be beauty— focus on the latter and you will have a positive experience overall.