My friend Kelly teaches a class called “Chemistry in the Community”. Today, Kelly taught a very successful lab plating pennies with other metals. It’s all very scientific, and the students loved it.
She texted me, “Today’s best quote: ‘Ms. _____, can I pull out my phone and Instagram my coins because this lab is the s*%t. I promise to hashtag you.’ ” (Note, for us elderly folk: Instagram is a smart phone app for sharing photos, and a hashtag — or anything beginning with # — is a way to sort and categorize those photos on the Internet. More on what the Internet is later.)
It was hilarious, and she wasn’t even too mad about the vulgarity. It was also a huge victory.
ChemCom is a class specializing in the practical applications of chemistry. The course is frequently filled with students who are long-term English-language learners and struggle with literacy deficits and/or gaping knowledge holes in math or basic science. Of course, students who have struggled in the past are more likely to skip classes, less likely to do their homework, comprehend texts, study for tests, or work independently on writing, synthesizing, and analyzing.
Kelly somehow makes it work. She is relentless in her efforts to get her students to appreciate and understand the chemistry all around them in their daily lives. She loves them, even if they occasionally drive her nuts.
These are the moments I take with me into every conversation on contract bargaining or linking standardized testing to teacher evaluations. Kelly’s students may not do well on CSTs, but there is no CST for ChemCom, and these students will be heartlessly thrust by the accountability system into an exam for a chemistry class they never took because other systems never made it possible for them to be ready for it.
The standardized systems leave many of our students behind and leave my friend Kelly to pick up the pieces, trying to help the students shape something new. If you can build me a standardized test that can calculate that metric, then we can talk. Until then, I’ll listen to Kelly and the thousands of other teachers who do it right, every single day.
Today was a good day in ChemCom. A great teacher did great work. Inspired and supported students saw something magical in the world, and then learned that it wasn’t magic after all. Indeed, it was something within their grasp.
This is what counts, and we must never forget that.