We woke up to a flight delay. Not the kind you want to have as we embarked on our 28-hour travel to Bangkok. Not the kind you want when you already have only a few days to be somewhere. As the morning went on, it quickly became clear that we were not going to make our connecting flight, and numerous phone calls ensued. Anxious minutes spent waiting to see whether Thailand was within our reach or not.
After 25 minutes of checking every airline, every combination, even surrounding airports, the verdict was in; no, we were not going to make it. Not on time. Not tomorrow, perhaps Thursday. Flights oversold, not their fault, just how it is. My heart sank, a trip of a lifetime had just turned into a 2-day excursion to the other side of the world.
And then something curious happened. The representative noticed that we were not flying coach. That we were first class on the first bout of the trip due to a small upgrade fee and all of a sudden within five minutes, we were on a flight. In fact, we were upgraded to first class the whole way arriving only an hour after our original arrival time.
I have never flown first class across the ocean, there is no way we can afford it on a teacher’s salary, and so we were those people; taking selfies in our sleep pod, taking pictures of the pajamas, the slippers, the amenities, the food. The everything. We were less than ten people and yet we had four flight attendants taking care of us. They even opened up the bathroom door for us when we had to go. Anything we needed was ours. All put in place to ensure that not only did we reach our destination, but we reached it well-rested, well-fed and with brains functioning at an optimal level.
And I couldn’t help but think to myself throughout the whole thing this is what privilege looks like. This is what it means to have a head start simply because of your circumstances.
Had I not been able a long time ago to upgrade that short 1-hour flight to Detroit as a way to surprise my husband, we would not even be here. Because of that small step up, everything else was given to us. The guarantee of rest, of proper food, of an exuberance of attention that continues at the hotel we are staying at.
We were given more because we had more to begin with.
This is what happens to many students in our schools every day, where things outside of their control determine the pathway they take through our learning experiences.
Where because they had access to books at an early age, they become early readers, who later are placed in enriched classes.
Where because they had access to adults who had the luxury of not working long hours, they had someone around to sign them up and take them to extracurriculars leading to more participation in clubs, in events, in everything that makes colleges look at you a little more.
Where because they had access to decent food, to sleep, to calm, they were able to come to school and do well, meaning they were given opportunities for those who knew how to do school. Who didn’t have to work through trauma or hunger, or homelessness, or anything else that can completely change your experience as a learner, as a human being?
And yet, none of that is decided by our students, the very kids the experiences happen to.
All of that is a life set in motion by things outside of their control which then leads to further privilege, to more opportunities, to better lives.
So what can we do once we realize the pathway our students are put on?
We can go beyond tests to measure their capabilities, after all, we all know there is nothing standardized about test results even when we sign forms to proctor them all the same because that would mean that our students had standardized lives to begin with.
We can go beyond data points and truly look at how we compare kids, look at how we determine who gets which opportunities.
We can see the whole child and their circumstances, ask more questions rather than assume and make that information a part of our decision-making when it comes to the opportunities presented to kids.
We can confront and dismantle the very perceptions we carry about the students we teach and the capabilities they have based upon their circumstances.
We can increase the opportunities for all instead of limiting it to a few.
We can offer more support through family advocates, guidance counselors, tutors, and other point people to those who need it to even the playing field.
We can recognize and actively work to change the part we play in the oppression and perpetuation of a stereotype of kids and their destinies who come from backgrounds that are not similar to what society would like us to believe is the norm (heteronormative, white, financially secure etc).
But we can’t do that if we don’t look at all we have been given and realize that while we may have worked hard for some of it, some of it was also just handed to us. Was put in place before we even came along so we didn’t even have to ask for it. Was given to us not because of who we are but because of a group we belong to.
And we can be so grateful that our paths were easy and within that gratitude realize that it is our job to pull others up, not as saviors, but as connectors, as people who need to make room for others to do better than us. Because frankly if we say as educators that we want to change the world then that change does, indeed, start with ourselves.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.