As my children prepare for pre-k graduation and the move to kindergarten, I cannot help but wonder about their futures. Will Karen become a doctor? Will Awana have the chance to choose between being a ballerina or a doctor? Will Aniyah’s behavior regress and threaten her academic progress?
I have worked to introduce school to my class as an exciting and fun place where they can make friends, learn, and be successful. Anecdotal evidence and various forms of assessments suggest that my students have already started to realize their potential and are on the path toward high achievement in school and beyond. Parents’ strong attendance at our class events and interest in enriching their child’s learning over the summer also bode well for my students’ academic prospects.
Yet my students still have many years during which their attitudes toward school, themselves, and their peers could change for the worse. Most of them will continue to live in unsafe neighborhoods and struggling school districts. The research showing that students in inner city schools who have had high-quality pre-k do better than those who have not gives me hope. I know that my instruction in the classroom and the active support of family members during this critical stage in children’s development will have life-long benefits. I also believe innovative changes are occurring in the K-12 system, many of them spearheaded by my fellow Teach For America alums. But, on an individual level, it is still hard to predict how high each child in my class will build on the pre-k foundation he or she gained this year.
My time in the classroom has been, above all, about providing the kinds of opportunities for my students that they deserve. The playing field is not level, even for three and four year olds. High-quality pre-k teachers alone cannot ensure that a child won’t face educational and societal inequities down the road, but the vibrant and challenging learning environments we provide are the first step toward giving all children an equal chance at success.