Good Intentions

Sherry Killam, teacher, writer, visual artist

Sherry Killam

“I pay taxes and get them on the bus.  It’s the teacher’s job to do the rest.”


Every morning well-intentioned parents and/or guardians send children to school with assumptions that need a reality check.

Overwhelmed parents may not realize that a public school is like a pressure cooker. The basic ingredients may be there for a healthy metaphorical meal. Good intentions, probably. But there are too many cooks in the kitchen.

Outside pressure comes from the cynicism that seeps into talks between publishers and politicians. The Big Boys play games behind closed doors like “Pin the Tail on the Scapegoat,” and “Pockets, Pockets,  Who’s Got Deep Pockets?”

With good intentions, committees of experts debate which thinking skills all children must master by which birthday. Then publishers assemble heavier textbooks.

At August Retreats, often held poolside at full service resort hotels, Administrators hand Principals new scripts mandated at the last legislative session to assure that every subgroup of students receives a customized learning pitch.

By brunch on the second day of the Retreat, Principals have scheduled the teachers’ restroom breaks and playground duties for the year.

Back home before school in the morning,  I find that most kids don’t appreciate all the educational plans made on their behalf.  Despite good intentions, many kids are overwhelmed by the basic challenges of interpreting and surviving family life.

For these, we have no laws, no plans.

There is no script for me when I hear children’s remarks and field questions from them:

“Why do parents say they’ll do something and then never do it?”

“Why do they do things they tell me not to do?”

“Why do they always blame me just because I’m the oldest?”

Some of these questions are universal and rhetorical, reflecting the normal mysteries of family dynamics.  Some of the stories twist my gut and take my breath away.

“A guy got really mad at my dad, ’cause see my dad, he fixed the guy’s car, and the guy didn’t have the money to pay, so he gave my dad another car that needed to be fixed, and then he couldn’t get the first car started after my dad fixed it (which it WAS fixed, but the guy didn’t know what he was doing) so the car didn’t start, and he came over to our house and was beating on the door and he was going to shoot my dad.”

My eyes widen.  “How did that go?”

Low voice out of the side of his mouth, “My dad got out his gun and shot him.”

“You mean…dead?”

“Well, he was half dead.  I mean half his guts were gone.”

“Did your dad get arrested?”

“No, the cops knew the dude came in our house with a gun.”

I notice his Adam’s apple rise and fall.

“And you were right there?”

“I wasn’t the only one.  There was a four-year-old girl there, too.”

I shake my head slowly and inhale to let him know I’ve heard his story.

We are on an officially scheduled seven-minute bathroom break. Thirty-two seventh-graders and I have walked down an outside corridor to visit the facilities.  I wait, leaning against a railing, while those who want one get a drink.  Some lean there with me.  Some blurt out their own family headlines, then bounce over to the drinking fountain.

“My Mom’s boyfriend’s birthday was yesterday and we had a party!”

“My Cousin’s birthday was yesterday and the police came.”

“My Dog had nine babies in the closet and two died.”

Some of my students duck into the nasty public bathroom just to hang out with their friends for a precious moment of uncensored childhood.

On the way back to our room, I let them romp.  They bump and nudge and giggle.  They whisper and twirl.  On the metal ramp outside our prefabricated classroom, I wait till they’re all facing me, single file.  Placing a finger alongside my nose, I signal them to stifle their feelings now.

It’s time to return to the mandated and measured ‘time on task,’ Federally Guaranteed to  leave none of them behind.  Good Intentions.




8 thoughts on “Good Intentions

  1. Steve Killam

    I have had the privilege and the heart break of hearing these school day stories over the years and watching my own son confront the realities of public school. Sherry has a way of conveying these moments with clarity, emotion, and humor that reach into the lives of child and teacher beyond academia.

  2. Sandra Anderson

    My heart bursts and contract when I read your blogs. My teaching life was so much easier, and then I moved on. I wonder what it would have been like had I not gone into administration and private sector work. These are so telling. I’m sharing with my tutoring colleagues, my high school teacher son, and the classroom teacher that I work with.

    1. Sherry Post author

      Thanks, Sandra. I’m always amazed at what a cross-section of society a typical classroom represents. We can’t assume anything about what happens before each child arrives at school.

  3. Leona Parks

    I appreciate your unflinching honesty in this piece. Having lived this story in my own way, I experience your writing as vividly as a beautifully filmed movie. May I offer a message of hope? There are schools, school districts, principals and teachers that are working hard to resolve the disconnect. It’s a slow, difficult process, but each school community can and should create a safe place where kids can learn and thrive. Where teachers receive the support, respect, and resources to make up for the fact that “poverty sucks.” It sucks life and sense out of people. But we have to keep chasing the dream. We have to dare to dream big!

    1. Sherry Post author

      Yes, Sharon. And I’m also always impressed with the resilience I see, too. A classroom is a layered tapestry of back story and drama.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.