Open mouth. Insert foot. That’s what I did.
You may have seen video of me addressing the Campaign for America’s Future in October, where I mentioned my frustration with those who believe there’s a single fix for public schools. I related an encounter with one such person, and I said I should have used the opportunity to give him the rundown of everything today’s public schools do.
In my speech, I attempted to give the full litany of our responsibilities in a playful way. I had in mind those commercials we’ve all seen for prescription drugs in which a lengthy list of possible side effects is stated at warp speed, while smiling people go on a hike or enjoy a candlelight dinner.
Epic fail. In my attempt to be clever and funny, I stepped on a word in one phrase, and I created another phrase that I believed was funny, but was insulting. I apologize.
It started out well enough: “We serve kids a hot meal. We put Band-Aids on boo-boos.” I sped up my delivery for effect, speaking much more quickly than I normally do. And that’s when I went into a skid.
“We diversify our curriculum of instruction to meet the personal and individual needs of all our students – the blind, the hearing impaired, the physically challenged, the gifted and talented, the chronically [tardy] and the medically annoying.”
I meant to say “the chronically tardy,” but that’s not what came out. I was making the point that we adapt daily lesson plans and schedules to meet the needs of students who, often through no fault of their own, are never on time. Tardiness can be a huge factor in poor academic performance. Sometimes, students are tardy because of physical or mobility issues; other times, tardiness is a symptom of deeper issues at home. You know how embarrassed and out of place you feel when you walk in late to an important work meeting? Well, imagine how a child feels when she is consistently late for school, her “job.” As educators, we have to devise ways to keep chronically tardy students on track, or else they will fall hopelessly behind and feel marginalized.
As to the second phrase, I did say “medically annoying.” I apologize for my choice of words. Let me be clear: I was not referring to students who are ill or medically fragile. I was referring to the student who, for example, has an argument with his girlfriend and now is having a very bad day, and doing everything humanly possible to annoy the teacher. What we do in our classrooms and how we adjust must take these students into consideration, too.
I realize that my words have taken on a life of their own. But those who know me and my work know that my entire career – beginning with my years as a lunch lady and then as a teacher in Utah – has been devoted to ensuring that all students, regardless of their ZIP code, have the support and tools they need. That means that much of what happens in today’s schools goes well beyond lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic.
This has been a teachable moment for me, and I hope students will learn from my error, too. We all should be more careful before we speak, slow down and make sure our points are well articulated and fully understood.
The bottom line is, I screwed up and I apologize. Please judge me by my heart, not by my mistakes.