J, one of my third graders, is beginning to open up.

She used to try to disappear when I’d come to get her for her thirty minutes of RSP (Resource Specialist Program) support. She’d sink in her chair, give me a giant frown. “Come on, J,” I’d tell her, “let’s go.” She’d lag behind when I walked her to the class, sometimes duck into the girls’ room along the way. “Hey, where is J?” The other kids would shrug. She’d get to the RSP room and turn around on her chair, rattle the tin Venetian blinds. “J, let’s pay attention. You want to learn, now, don’t you?” Well, no, she really didn’t, in RSP or anywhere else. “Does she work for you?” I asked her young teacher. “Never,” she replied.

But then things began to improve. J started to come to school with completed homework. It wasn’t done well but it was done. And in RSP my assistant and I began to notice that she was good in math. She seemed to enjoy it. She would confide in my assistant: her mother was about to have a baby, they lived in a two-bedroom apartment with another family, and her older sister would help her with her homework once she got back from “camp,” which my assistant guessed was some kind of correctional facility. She even started talking to me. “I don’t know my ABCs. I don’t know how to count.” “That’s okay,” I told her. “That’s why you come to RSP.”

Then yesterday her mouth starts to bleed. I tell her to go to the restroom to rinse it out, but when she comes back it’s bleeding even worse. I ask my assistant to bring her to the nurse. “Part of her tooth fell out,” my assistant says when she returns. “Part?” I ask. She nods. “It just sort of crumbled.”

Got home, Googled tooth decay, came upon this by Valerie Strauss:

More importantly, many “C”-performing schools and students are now achieving at their peak capacities, in view of the external constraints over which public education has no control. Many disadvantaged students, and schools serving them, are low-performing not because of inadequate school efforts, but because children come to school unable to focus because they are hungry or suffer from untreated minor illnesses such as asthma or tooth decay, or with inadequate early childhood literacy preparation because their parents are poorly educated, or with interrupted instruction because of homelessness or displacement from housing instability, or stressed because of parental unemployment shocks, home foreclosure, or neighborhood crime.

I guess I must be teaching in one of those C schools. But it really doesn’t matter.

“I don’t know how to do my homework,” said J.

“Well, then, you’ve come to the right place.”





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3 Responses to NCLB and Tooth Decay

  1. Kimberly says:

    I have this happen to my students a couple times a year. The nurse sends home very terse letters, that include resources for reduced or free pediatric dentistry.

  2. Hi, Kimberly. I have been teaching for 25+ years and this is the fist time a kid’s tooth crumbled. She is such an eager kid. I hope I can help her somehow. Thank you for your comment.

  3. [...] have seen what negative impact homelessness and transiency have. A few days ago I learned that one one of my students, a girl three years below grade level and in such poor health her tooth crumbled while I was giving [...]

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