By Jill Diaz
In September, I had the opportunity to go to my first ever National Association for College Admission Counseling Conference in Indianapolis and it blew me away. From the keynote speakers to the various informational sessions to the incredible networking opportunities, it was much like my beloved IACAC Conference and left me feeling rejuvenated and bursting with thoughts and ideas.
The keynote speaker that kicked everything off was Geoffrey Canada, who is well known as a leader in educational reform. I connected with so much of his speech, but what hit me right in the gut was a poem he wrote and shared:
Don’t Blame Me
The girl’s mother said, “Don’t blame me.
Her father left when she was three.
I know she don’t know her ABCs, her 1,2,3s,
But I am poor and work hard you see.”
You know the story, it’s don’t blame me.
The teacher shook her head and said,
“Don’t blame me, I know it’s sad.
He’s ten, but if the truth be told,
He reads like he was six years old.
And math, don’t ask.
It’s sad you see.
Wish I could do more, but it’s after three.
Blame the mom, blame society, blame the system.
Just don’t blame me.”
The judge was angry, his expression cold.
He scowled and said, “Son you’ve been told.
Break the law again and you’ll do time.
You’ve robbed with a gun.
Have you lost your mind?”
The young man opened his mouth to beg.
“Save your breath,” he heard instead.
“Your daddy left when you were two.
Your momma didn’t take care of you.
Your school prepared you for this fall.
Can’t read, can’t write, can’t spell at all.
But you did the crime for all to see.
You’re going to jail, son.
Don’t blame me.”
If there is a God or a person supreme,
A final reckoning, for the kind and the mean,
And judgment is rendered on who passed the buck,
Who blamed the victim or proudly stood up,
You’ll say to the world, “While I couldn’t save all,
I did not let these children fall.
By the thousands I helped all I could see.
No excuses, I took full responsibility.
No matter if they were black or white,
Were cursed, ignored, were wrong or right,
Were shunned, pre-judged, were short or tall,
I did my best to save them all.”
And I will bear witness for eternity
That you can state proudly,
“Don’t blame me.”
In education especially, there are an insurmountable number of obstacles when it comes to policies, politics, and resources. It is no doubt a challenging field to be in right now. I have heard the heartbreak countless times from many fellow colleagues and teachers who feel they no longer are able to truly teach or counsel students in the way they need because of all these challenges. It breaks my heart.
We CANNOT play the “don’t blame me” game. Who truly suffers from that? Our students. The reason we are here. We have to fight the good fight…for them.
How often do we fall back on excuses that keep us from serving students to their full potential? How often do we utter the words “there’s not enough time,” or “I did my best,” when in our heart of hearts, we know we could put forth more time, more effort? What if we made a promise to ourselves to do everything in our power to make our students successful? I am not just talking about doing things that are allowed in our budget or that can only be done in our 40 hour work week. Sadly, that is not possible sometimes. We often use those as easy outs to avoid the dirty work – the kind of work that will change student’s lives, the kind of work that will change the world.
Think about those heroes and those you admire who have changed the world as we know it, not just in education. Did they stop when the bell rang? When the clock hit 5 pm? When their boss said, “no we can’t do that? No. They pushed the boundaries.
What is YOUR cause? What is it that you work for? How passionate are you about it? Are you willing to do what it takes? Are you willing to sacrifice personal time, or to reach into your own pockets? Maybe you are gasping at the thought of that. Maybe you think it is ridiculous for an employer to expect that of you. You are right, they cannot really ask that of you, and probably won’t. Sometimes it is just necessary. Some of my best friends are teachers, and I have heard them tell me numerous stories about kids in their classes who showed up to the coldest day of the year without a coat or maybe they suspect a child does not have any food. My friends do not even think twice about going out and buying a coat or bringing extra food to class.
With shrinking budgets and messed up priorities in the administration of any field, sometimes all we can lean on is the human spirit and the desire to make a difference. I am blessed to work at a school that for the most part says “yes” to my crazy ideas, but I also get my fair share of obstacles and challenges that I believe to keep me from doing the best job I can to service my students. I cannot just stop there. Sometimes we have to take matters into our own hands, our own pockets, our own resources.
I struggle with the balance of this very often. I value my small amount of free time and Lord knows I certainly do not have the luxury of deep pockets. BUT I refuse to NOT do everything I can to give my student workers the best and most valuable campus job they have ever had. I refuse to NOT do everything I can to ensure my lost little high schoolers know I am here for them through the overwhelming college search process – even if it means giving up my weekend time to work with their schedule, texting/calls/emails at all hours of the night, or maybe just taking them out for coffee/lunch/dinner that is not in my “expense budget.” That is what being passionate IS. It is not just doing your job from 8-5, then anything after that is not your problem. If you are passionate it is always your problem. I would rather live a life of sacrifice for a passion than have more free time with less meaning in my life. So Geoffrey’s poem really spoke to me. It made me think, am I doing enough? Can I do more? Who am I letting slip through the cracks? Maybe if I can make a few more phone calls, reach out just a little more, go the extra mile, re-think my communication plan, it may make the world of a difference for one student who did not think college would be an option for them.
Don’t blame me, we don’t have the funds: But how can you get creative with what you have?
Don’t blame me, I only have so much time: A little extra of your own time will go a long way.
Don’t blame me, it is out of my control: You have more control than you think. You can still have a positive influence.
This poem made it clear to me that we have more impact on these kids than we will EVER know. Let’s take that seriously.