This I Believe

Ilana - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Entered on February 5, 2008

Last year while observing an Honor’s English class at the Cleveland School of the Arts, I had intended on trying to learn more about the troubled school system and try to think about what I could do to help it get better. I had the opportunity to get to know some unique students. The teacher asked me if I could help him critique and edit their writing. He warned me that I would come across poorly written papers that were not even close to being at the standard that he used to expect. I was curious why those students were in an honor’s English class, but was too scared to ask.

As I read the papers I found myself getting more and more frustrated. The writing was so bad that at times it took me twenty minutes to read a four or five page paper. Sentences didn’t make sense, words were so misspelled that I struggled to figure out what word the writer had intended to use. After some time reading through these papers, I lost sight of why I was in that classroom in the first place. I began seeing my critiques as busy work and considered much of my time spent in the classroom as nothing more than a mindless chore. I was paying so much attention to grammatical errors, that I wasn’t able to devote enough time to the actual content of the papers. When I started observing the classroom I was hoping to learn more about how the education system was failing these students. I realized that I was no longer observing the failing public school system, but a fully participating member of it. I started to understand teachers’ frustrations and saw how easy it was for such an important job to turn into a tedious activity. I wasn’t even aware of my passivity until I almost skimmed over one of the most creative interpretations of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby I had ever seen. I had let my students down. They had trusted me to give them useful critiques on not only their writing, but also the ideas that they were sharing with me. I asked myself ‘How many other good ideas had I skimmed over?’

It had only taken two months for me to lose sight of what I was doing, and I began to wonder just how long it took a teacher to begin seeing their job in the same way I had. Did teachers always snap out of their daze, too, or did it eventually become a constant state of being? Just how many great ideas had been lost in the sea of bad grammar? The questions that I have yet to even begin to fathom are ‘What can be done to stop this and how much damage has already been caused?’ In a world filled with problems, are we losing the minds that contain the answers to a crippling education system?