Recommended reading: “Becoming” by Michelle Obama….

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Michelle Obama’s memoir, and highly recommend it.  It’s well written, very personal, interesting, and insightful.  There is one story in the book that educators should reflect on.  The former FLOTUS describes her second grade experience at Bryn Mawr Elementary on the South Side of Chicago as “a mayhem of unruly kids and flying erasers.”  She continues:

All this seemed due to a teacher who couldn’t figure out how to assert control—who didn’t seem to like children, even.  Beyond that, it wasn’t clear than anyone was particularly bothered by the fact that the teacher was incompetent. The students used it as an excuse to act out, and she seemed to think only the worst of us.  In her eyes, we were a class of “bad kids,” though we had no guidance and no structure and had been sentenced to a grim, underlit room in the basement of the school.

Fortunately for young Michelle Robinson, she had an advocate—her mother:

Without telling me, she went over to the school and began a weeks-long process of behind the scenes lobbying, which led to me and a couple of other high-performing kids getting quietly pulled out of class, given a battery of tests, and about a week later installed permanently into a bright and orderly third grade class upstairs, governed by a smiling, no-nonsense teacher who knew her stuff.

She characterized this move, engineered by her mother, as “a small but life changing move.”  Years later—after the magnet high school in downtown Chicago, after Princeton, after Harvard Law School—she looked back on this event with enhanced perspective:

…my mind often traveled back to childhood, and in particular to the month or so I’d spent in the pencil-flying pandemonium of that second grade class at Bryn Mawr Elementary, before my mother had the wherewithal to have me plucked out.  In the moment, I’d felt nothing but relieved by my own good fortune. But as my luck in life seemed only to snowball from there, I thought more about the twenty or so kids who’d been marooned in that classroom, stuck with an uncaring and unmotivated teacher.  I knew I was no smarter than any of them. I just had the advantage of an advocate….Through no fault of their own, those second graders had lost a year of learning. I’d seen enough at this point to understand how quickly even small deficits can snowball too.


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!