A Love Letter to my Fellow Title I Teachers

Dear Fellow Title I Teacher:

Don’t compare yourself to other teachers. You are amazing. You work hard. Even if they don’t tell you, your students appreciate and love you! You may be one of the few stable things in their life! When you look at where your students are “on the charts”, often they fall behind their peers from better funded schools with intact families. But when you look at how far they have come, you can be proud because you helped them get there.

Most of my fellow teachers don’t know what it’s like to have a student SUDDENLY not be in your class anymore – with no warning or pre-planning. When you try to call or email – maybe to get an instrument back or just ask how they are –  you find everything has been disconnected. You know what it’s like!

Most of my fellow teachers don’t know what it’s like to have the $20 yearly instrument fee seem impossible for some parents to pay. Many struggle with just paying the rent and buying food. You know what it’s like – and I bet you spend some of your own money just on the supplies you need to teach!

Most of my fellow teachers don’t know what it’s like to have a student share their “good news”. And what is the good news? My uncle’s prison sentence was reduced from 5 years to 3 years. Although you would never ask it yourself, a student inevitably asks “what is your uncle in prison for?” The answer is armed robbery. You know what it’s like.

Most of my fellow teachers have never had a former student murdered in a gang fight on the school’s track over the summer. Most don’t know the heart-wrenching torment of examining oneself and thinking – sometimes out loud sometimes to themselves – “could I have done more for that student when he was in my class four years ago.” Self-reflection is good, but you probably did all you could. You know what it’s like.

Stop comparing yourself to the suburban teacher where the families are all making a decent income and are able to support what their students are doing. You DO make a difference. Love the students under your care. Make sure you take time for yourself. The emotional stress can sap the life out of you. Decide what time you are leaving school each day and follow through with that. Have a hobby. Read a book. Exercise. Eat well. We need you to be around for a long time!

With Love and Respect,
James Divine

* James is in his 22nd year of teaching band and orchestra. He has taught at an exclusive private school, a suburban high school, and now teaches at a Title I school in Colorado Springs. James’ single mom was on welfare and food stamps for part of his growing up years. For about a year the family was also homeless (by today’s definition). Even though they weren’t called that at the time, James attended several Title I schools in the 1970s and early 1980s. James believes that the teachers he had SAVED HIS LIFE. He understands where his current students are coming from. James hosts The Music Ed Podcast, which you can find on iTunes or at www.jamesdivine.net.