The Trials and Tests of Teaching at Risk Students
The first five pages of Elizabeth Blake’s (by the way no relation) story found me helplessly engrossed. I was hooked and had to read “No Child Left Behind: The True Story of a Teacher’s Quest.”
After 20 years as a Medical Technologist in chemistry and hematology Elizabeth Blake was looking for a change, for a new career. She felt a deep-seated sense of calling to pursue the required education courses of the State Department of Education for a provisional license for teaching.
The call of teaching and helping teen age at-risk kids pulled her like a magnet. She received a contract as a Science teacher at a small alternative school for at-risk and homeless kids. These students couldn’t make it in regular high school classes.
A romantic and a bit naive Elizabeth was not ready for what transpired on her first day of classroom experience. Carefully laid plans exploded. Chaos ruled. Beth quickly discovered that many of her students were juvenile offenders and had probation officers. Many attended school by a court order. Some wore electronic tracking bracelets on their ankles. Others had to drop out of regular school where they didn’t fit in and needed alternative options.
Elizabeth introduces special students like Conejo, Javier, Bobby, Nakisha, and Erica, who were filled with promise and showed signs of maturity and real evidence of learning in their classes with Mrs. Blake. This motivation inspired her to renew her contract each year, even though she sometimes was given assignments in three different schools.
Administrators and district office personnel made a Elizabeth’s teaching experience an even more difficult challenge in a school district where poverty, shooting, and gang influence were an accepted way of life. The administration and school board gave lip service to their district’s ministry: “Our teachers deal with problem students. Every child deserves and education.”
I identified with Beth’s dilemma. As a Christian Educator myself, I have worked with a Faith Based Ministry serving the needs of incarcerated juveniles. The undermining of the administration with the trauma, riots, and chaos became a burden hard to face. Beth was heartbroken each time another of her students was injured, hospitalized or killed. In desperation she cried out to God for direction and inner strength. She compassion and a loving concern for her students.
I found Blake’s writing style gripping, often heartrending, yet her attitude and approach are always positive. I was encouraged by her references to students who have chosen to enroll in a variety of college programs or to train for more specialized professional careers.
“No Child Left Behind? The True Story of a Teacher’s Quest” is a book that will challenge school administrators, teachers and educators. It should be required reading specifically for educators and administrators within any inner city school district.