The Most Inspirational Story You Will Ever Read

Why is a story unforgettable? What makes it inspirational?

I want you to think about those two questions before you read this story.

The Beginning

There is one universal truth, one thing that every American has to deal with — and that’s obstacles. There are obstacles in our family, in school, in our career and in our life. Everywhere you turn, there is a new obstacle we are forced to cope with and overcome.

There are sometimes so many obstacles that life itself can become too overwhelming.

For Javon (changing his name to protect the innocent) he was born into a world full of obstacles. Let’s start with his parents. Javon’s father was incarcerated before he was even born. So when he came into this world, his father was behind bars on drug and gang related crimes.

Javon’s mother was addicted to drugs and used throughout her pregnancy with Javon. Shortly after Javon was born, it became clear to Javon’s grandmother that no one was going to be able to take care of this newborn. So Javon’s grandmother took custody of him and became the “parent.”

Javon’s grandmother was a hard working woman, her husband, was also a hard working man. But they were not financially very successful. Because of their lack of funds, they were forced to live in a very violent and crime-filled city in New Jersey.

To make things more difficult for Javon, when he started kindergarten he was diagnosed with ADD and a learning disability. The school he attended was not on the cutting edge of education and had little experience or expertise in meeting Javon’s needs.

Obstacle #1

Every American kid goes to kindergarten. Adults assume that because Kindergartners are five and have zero life responsibilities and no external pressures placed on them — that this is a time of true innocence.

That’s not entirely accurate. Granted five-year olds are not going to work, paying bills, figuring out taxes, but they are going to school. And every day a kindergartner goes to school is extremely stressful because literally everyday they are learning something they didn’t know the day before.

Imagine waking up and going someplace where you have no idea what is going on — and your job is to figure it out?

That’s the life of a kindergartner. The good news is that they are not alone — they have a certified and trained teacher who helps, supports and guides them through the obstacle of being lost, confused and bewildered.

Except for the students who struggle and the students who don’t reach that “ah-ha” moment fast enough. Because in the 19th Century American school system, speed learning is the goal. If a student can’t learn a concept in a day or two, they are immediately labeled “slow” and alarms are rung throughout the building.

As a parent and educator, this seems like a good idea. Students who struggle need help. But when you are the student and everyone around you is panicking that you aren’t learning concepts as fast as other students — you start to develop a complex.

That is obstacle #1.

Obstacle #2

America has been measuring the Achievement Gap since 1992. If you don’t know what this refers to, it’s a student data metric that tracks the difference between student test scores of white students versus black students.

In 1992, the Achievement Gap in literacy was 24 points. What that means is the average student test score for white students was 24 points higher than the average student test score of black students. Based on the data, the situation doesn’t seem to get better over time. In 2020, the Achievement Gap grew to 32 points in literacy.

Naturally, the experts all want to explain why. And people no one has ever heard of start to come out of the woodwork to give their two cents as to why the Achievement Gap exists and why it’s impossible to overcome.

You might have heard some of their explanations: lack of school funding, poverty, students dealing with trauma, PTSD, and the problem with living in broken homes and broken family values.

Unfortunately, people only read the headlines and don’t hear what any of these “fake” experts are really saying. When you blame poverty, broken homes, low socio-economic neighborhoods, lack of role models, or anything else that describes life for a lot of marginalized communities — what you are actually saying is — people of color are incapable of overcoming obstacles.

(Yea, I’m pissed off too!)

Javon struggled to learn how to read in kindergarten. The alarms were sounded and he was classified with special needs, specifically ADD and learning disabilities.

We already know Javon came from a broken home, both his mother and father were not in the picture. We know that Javon lived in a low socioeconomic community. We know that Javon was a student of color. Now, we are adding on two more obstacles, one is his ADD and the second is his learning disability.

At the end of kindergarten, Javon was falling into the Achievement Gap. When he started the first grade the following year, he was still on a kindergarten reading level.

This is obstacle #2.

Obstacle #3

When you compare an adult to a child, you can clearly see differences. They are obvious, from height, weight, skin, and baby teeth. Despite seeing differences between children and adults, as soon as kids begin to exhibit behavior, adults immediately forget they are dealing with a child.

When this happens in school, it causes a huge problem for everyone — the student, the teacher, the principal and the parent.

Our American school system is designed for teachers to teach — not for students to learn. When I speak with educators and I make them aware of this issue — they immediately get defensive and angry. After I show them how the system is not designed for student learning, they calm down and get outraged they are trapped inside a hamster wheel.

The problem everyone ignores or overlooks is when students struggle in this system, they cannot escape and if no one helps them — their whole life is destroyed.

That’s what was happening to Javon. Javon entered the first grade on a kindergarten level. The school, the teacher and the principal did nothing to address his literacy issues. When Javon entered the second grade, he was still reading on a kindergarten level, and the same thing happened in 3rd grade and then again in 4th grade.

But not addressing his literacy skills created a larger problem for Javon that most teachers and administrators don’t know how to deal with. The issue was that Javon didn’t like “not” being able to read. He wanted to do work, he just couldn’t because he couldn’t read the assignments. What Javon decided to do was look for other ways to understand what was happening in class.

Javon started to eavesdrop on the teacher’s conversations with other students in class that asked questions. When the teacher would walk over to any student that asked a question, he would try to listen in. He also started looking at other students papers and interrupting them while they worked. To the untrained eye, it looked like Javon was not minding his own business or trying to cheat off other students.

[Not sure how he could cheat — he can’t read.]

That wasn’t what he was doing, but this is what most teachers and principals see in class. The larger problem is teachers and principals are stuck inside a system designed to fail the 21st Century student. School is designed for the teacher to teach. Teachers are given marching orders to follow the 19th century curriculum and to teach it as “fast” as humanly possible.

Teachers commonly refer to this as “getting through the curriculum.” Oh, what fun for students! If you’ve been following me on social media, you already know “learning is not fun — it’s difficult.” Putting additional pressure on teachers and students to learn at a pace that is unrealistic, but more importantly unimportant — is why schools are failing across the country.

Why do kids need to learn these obsolete concepts at a record pace? To be quite frank, we are already pushing the boundaries of relevancy of the 19th century curriculum in the 21st century — but adding a timed deadline for learning seems over the top.

Javon was simply beyond what the system can handle. And he isn’t alone. Millions of students every year are beyond the system’s capacity. And hard working, dedicated teachers and principals are scratching their head because they don’t know what to do.

But teachers and principals don’t sit back and do nothing — they react to the situation. Unfortunately, the way most teachers and principals react is the wrong way. Javon’s teacher would see Javon get out of his seat and would redirect him back. Javon would talk to other students and be redirected to be quiet. But Javon needed help — not redirection. If redirection is the only response the school has to Javon’s situation — then the teacher is going to be redirecting him every five minutes — all day, every day of school.

To be fair, this is a bad situation for Javon and his teacher. I have spoken to thousands of teachers and most of them relate to me these feelings:

My principal doesn’t understand how difficult it is to teach a student who is several grade levels below everyone else. They have zero sympathy for the student or me. They want me to perform miracles.

I hear teachers. I get it. When you work in an old, outdate 19th century school — it feels like the only way Javon can succeed is if a miracle were to happen. The real problem is just the way the school is designed.

But the immense pressure placed on Javon’s teacher caused her to make a huge mistake in class. One day while Javon was out of his seat and talking to a male student on the other side of the room — the teacher snapped. “Javon! I need you to go back to your seat and stop bothering other students.”

The public rebuke was the last straw. Javon was trying to do everything he could to learn in class. The school provided him with zero supports. The teacher was never provided additional training or support to advance her own skills as a teacher — she was just expected to make it happen.

About an hour later, Javon walked back over to the student he was talking to earlier, but because the teacher gave permission to call Javon out for not doing what everyone else is doing — the student said out loud, “Javon is bothering me!”

The teacher chimed in and said in front of the class, “Javon, mind your own business and get back in your seat!”

This was the end of Javon’s rope — so he punched the male student in the face.

What was Javon supposed to do? He needed help that never came. He tried on his own to learn — which was not being publicly humiliated and the teacher inadvertently created a negative and hostile learning environment for all students.

[Don’t blame the teacher please — they are trapped in this obsolete 19th Century system. Change the system and every teacher will unlock student potential.]

The principal and school’s response was to suspend him and label him a “bad student.”

This is obstacle #3.

Obstacle #4

Under federal law, students classified with special needs are guaranteed to receive a free, public education. This sounds great, until you see how it works in reality.

Javon was suspended a few times for fights and verbally threatening his teacher and the principal. Under federal law, the public or charter school is not legally allowed to expel a special needs student. They must find a different school that can meet their needs.

In order to do that, the school must legally admit in writing that they cannot educate the student. So Javon’s school put that in writing and thus were allowed to search for other schools to send him to.

Here’s the problem. Once a school, public or charter, admit legally they cannot educate a student, for some reason they take it personally. That’s right, a special needs student goes to school, trying their best, but the teacher, principal and school district start to feel resentful toward that student for being disabled. “How dare we have so many special needs students?”

This attitude is a result of the Obama Administration and Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan’s leadership. The reason for this institutional hatred of special needs students is because Arnie Duncan immorally and unethically advised President Obama that he felt classifying students was a form of institutional racism.

[This is not true]

But the President appointed Arnie Duncan. He was supposed to be an expert in education. With the bad intelligence, the President created a financial incentive for school districts across the United States to prevent students from getting the help they need or attending schools designed to help them.

This blatant manipulation of reality is known as — mainstreaming.

[Again, do not blame teachers — they are trapped in this dystopian nightmare like the rest of us.]

Javon’s school needed to find a different school — they were fed up with him. The teacher had created a hostile classroom, the other students were annoyed by him. His grandmother was exhausted and exasperated. Javon’s life was falling apart — and he was only 10 years old.

All of this negative pressure fell on Javon’s shoulders and he became stigmatized.

This is obstacle #4.

Obstacle #5

This is the final obstacle. Javon’s journey so far has been filled with obstacles. Even when he tries to do the right thing — he got yelled at and scolded. Once the teacher gave permission to label Javon, other students piled on to confirm the teacher’s feelings.

But the system won’t recognize the bad habits or mistakes Javon’s teacher made. The 19th Century school is blind to its own inadequacies. It’s the ultimate form of gaslighting. The school is failing because there is something wrong with the students.

I created a “Classroom Environment Assessment” as a way for teachers to self-check their own classrooms. When I looked at the data, it was shocking. First, only one teacher received a perfect score out of all respondents. Second, the vast majority of teachers who completed the assessment failed the test. Here’s the link to the assessment:

This is obstacle #5.

How can parents or student hope to learn when the vast majority of classroom environments aren’t spaces that promote positive learning?

The Long Way Back

When Javon’s grandmother agreed to enroll him in my program, it was clear there was a lot of work that needed to happen. From day one, Javon had five known obstacles to overcome. And they were all big obstacles.

It was around November of Javon’s 4th grade year, he was reading on a kindergarten level, he had been suspended numerous times for physically assaulting other students and verbally threatening his teacher and principal.

From Javon’s perspective, teachers are stupid and principals are old, rich, out of touch people who only care about themselves. [That’s a 10-year old’s perspective.]

If you became Javon’s new teacher, what would you do?

If you were the principal of the school, what would your approach be?

The reason close to 10,000 educators and parents have asked me these questions is because all the so-called “experts” don’t have any answers or solutions — they just talk about why they think there’s a problem.

Meanwhile, Javon is in 4th grade and reads on a kindergarten level. Javon doesn’t care why he can’t read. His grandmother isn’t interested in a sociological study of how this happened. And frankly, most Americans don’t care either. All parents and students want is a better quality educational system. They want this to NEVER happen again.

The truth is learning is difficult and understanding how students learn isn’t intuitive. And what most people don’t realize — there is no manual.

In the 20th Century, a teacher by the name of Madelyn Hunter wrote the book on teaching. It’s a great book, except she wrote it for teachers who work inside a 19th Century school system. We need to update our schools — students need a 21st Century learning environment, which means Hunter’s book is no longer as relevant. What teachers need is a new teacher bible.

One of the reasons I began writing and posting on Medium.com is so teachers and parents could begin to understand the school system and what is actually happening behind closed doors. For educators, you are learning more about teaching and education than any Masters or Doctoral Education program.

One of my many projects is to try and publish, “The Practice of Teaching: The 4 Areas of Highly Effective Teachers.” This would become the new teacher bible, based on over 10,000 classroom observations and over 250,000 logged hours inside K12 classrooms that work.

Javon needed a new start, but so do a lot of kids stuck in their classrooms and in their schools. In reality, most kids like Javon end up in a new school, but the same thing happens all over again. Education leaders ask me all the time, “What’s the answer then? How do you stop the cycle from repeating itself?”

Let’s be real for a second. Javon’s life trajectory has been cut short. If he graduates from high school it would be a miracle. Right now, he is reading on a kindergarten level. Most schools don’t even know where to begin at that point. And if we look at statistics, as an african-american male, he is most likely going to be arrested or dead before he turns 25. We already know his father was in jail for drug related problems, thus it would not be a big stretch to see Javon follow in his footsteps.

But we are talking about a 10-year old little boy. No one wants Javon’s life to be over at 10, but the “experts” are clueless as to what to do.

Changing the Environment

Whenever I am presented with a student challenge, the first thing I do is look at the learning environment. If the student is not in a positive learning environment — there are no interventions that will succeed.

Remember Obstacle #5 — the classroom environment assessment?

Not enough teachers and principals realize how much the classroom environment affects student learning. In fact, if you don’t have a positive class environment, you are holding your students back. Interventions cannot work, test preparation will not overcome, and even the quality of teaching won’t supercede a negative classroom environment.

The teachers and support staff in my school were the most trained educators in America. No other school in the United States could hold a candle to my teachers and staff. In addition to providing them with 30 hours of targeted professional development throughout the school year — every teacher and support staff attended a week-long school orientation before school opened, which resembled an “educator bootcamp.”

My “bootcamp” was a 40-hour crash-course in teaching and learning. Overall, all of my staff received 70+ hours every year of targeted professional learning. Being a teacher or teacher’s assistant at my school was hard work. But every one of them could handle it, because they received the proper professional development that focused on their individual capacity.

We became known as the best teacher training school in the NY and NJ area, and I had to start a waiting list for teachers who wanted to work for me.

Javon needed as many external obstacles eliminated from his life, so he could focus on the two major obstacles he faced — his literacy skills and his inappropriate behavior. If we could limit his attention to those two, we could change his life trajectory.

And the answer to that challenge is — change the environment.

Dealing with Frustration

If this was a Hollywood movie, I could begin to wrap this story up. I could give you a feel-good moment and you would be satisfied. The story would end with Javon overcoming his obstacles, and he lives happily ever after.

But that’s not how life works.

Changing the environment is only the first step — after that you have to work with the student. Javon was not a bad kid, but he was trained how to be bad by his teacher, his principal and by the school system.

When I am invited to visit school districts, I see it happening in too many classrooms and too many schools — the staff train bad behavior. Of course, it’s not intentional. My mother and father were both teachers. I have many friends that are teachers. I love and support teachers, but just because I love, respect and support teachers doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore bad habits.

Only teachers who don’t know me get defensive. Teachers that know me, have attended a workshop or have met me from a school visit understand that I want every teacher to become the best teacher in their school. That’s what we need — a nation of expert teachers.

The only way to reach that goal is to eliminate the bad habits the old 19th Century school system promotes. And there are a lot of really bad habits.

In Javon’s case, he knew he couldn’t read. But he still wanted to participate. His teacher was not on his side. His teacher didn’t know what to do, so she decided to do nothing. In response, Javon took matters into his own hands. That’s why he was walking around the room. That’s why he was talking to other students. That’s why he was listening in on every conversation the teacher was having, even when it had nothing to do with the lesson.

Javon didn’t know what the teacher was going to say. But his classroom teacher made a huge mistake and became a new obstacle holding him back, instead of pushing him forward. And we know how that teacher felt:

The principal doesn’t care about me or the student. How am I supposed to teach a kid who can’t read? This is the 4th grade, how did he pass that many grades without anyone doing anything?

I feel the same way as the teacher. How did the school allow him to pass four grades without anyone doing anything?

Javon isn’t the only student below grade level. We had a lot of students who started my program severely behind their peers. That’s why I created the most intense reading intervention program in New Jersey. I sat down with Javon’s new teacher and our literacy coach and we agreed Javon should see the coach twice a day for 20 minutes each session.

But you need to know — Javon won’t reach a 2nd grade reading level until the 6th grade. The literacy coach only solved Javon’s future, but we still needed to address Javon’s present. What could he do in the 4th grade classroom?

It takes time to get to know a student. And we didn’t know Javon. All we had were his school records and they didn’t paint Javon in a very good light. But I have read a lot of these school records and I know the difference between what’s written and reality. And kids are good. They all are. The only reason kids act out is because they have no other options.

America’s public and charter schools are designed to give kids zero options. It’s the school’s way or get suspended. I ran into this myself as a high school student — and I was a good student. It doesn’t matter who you are — the system wins all arguments.

I was late for homeroom 70 percent of high school. Not late to class. Not late to academics. Just late to homeroom, where they take attendance. Rules are rules, correct? Attendance must be submitted by a certain time and if you arrive after that time, you have must go to the main office, that’s where you get a pass, and if you receive too many passes you AUTOMATICALLY get a detention. (Lunacy!!)

I wasn’t going to treat Javon that way. That kind of blind bad habits is how Javon ended up at my school in the first place. We needed to educate Javon not punish him.

It wasn’t going to be easy — and Javon continued to get into arguments with other students and with his new teacher because when you are being forced to go to a new school away from your home and your friends — you are going to be very angry and resentful. And you certainly won’t be a happy student, if you believe you are in a school designed for special needs students because being a special needs student is a bad thing.

Google Translate This

At this point, you can see there was a plan in place. Javon would see the literacy coach twice a day, his new teacher was assigning work that he could in class, and he was receiving individual and small group help with the teacher and teacher aides all day.

But the school system trained Javon to listen in on everyone else’s conversations. It was how he coped in class. Javon couldn’t just turn that habit off. In a new classroom and new school, Javon’s interest in everyone else’s business rubbed students the wrong way. “Why is Javon over by my desk?”

If you are interested in how we helped Javon stop acting inappropriately in class and school, leave a comment below. What you need to understand is that changing a student’s behavior takes a lot of time, patience and effort. And Javon was making progress every week being at my school.

At the end of the first month, I had a meeting with Javon’s teacher and the literacy coach to review student data and decide what our next step would be.

To my surprise Javon’s teacher told me that he was doing classwork and homework every night. I needed to know more — how could a student who is unable to read assignments, doing homework every single night? When I asked the teacher for the answer, she admitted she didn’t know.

The next day, I called Javon into my office and asked him if he liked school and how things were going? Javon and I had a special, but strange bond. Javon had a tough exterior. He felt he needed to act tough and unapproachable, so people would leave him alone. The school system had labeled him. a “bad student,” which unfortunately scarred him.

“Why do you want to know?” Javon said suspicious of the question.

We should all laugh. Not at Javon, but at the situation. Here’s a 10 year old little boy who an entire school district blamed him for not being able to learn quick enough and then forced him to behave in ways he didn’t want to, and then kicked him out — because they ran out of ideas. The whole thing is absurd. All of this nonsense could be fixed easily, if everyone knew what they were doing.

“Javon, I was talking to your teacher and she told me you are doing your homework. I’m very proud of you, but I wanted to know how you do your homework. Does your grandmother help you?”

Javon took a second, paused and then said:

No. My grandmother doesn’t really know how to use email. The teacher emails it to her and she lets me go on and get it. So I copy it into google translate and then I hit the silver mic and it reads it to me. I hit the mic again when I’m ready to answer the question and it types out what I want it to say. I copy that back into the email and press the blue button, because my grandma told me that’s the button to send it.”

Pause.

What is the Obstacle in Your Life?

Have you ever encountered an obstacle that every solution you try fails, but you never give up and finally one solution works — how does that make you feel?

Vindicated? Elated? Overjoyed?

What was remarkable about Javon was that he had no idea he had solved his own obstacle. I never would have thought of that solution in a million years. I am considered an expert educator, but I would not have thought of using Google Translate.

But thankfully Javon did. That was the missing link. We ordered Javon a laptop and I told his teacher and literacy coach, let him use Google Translate to do all of his work. Pure genius — thank you Javon!

What can we all learn from Javon? How can you benefit from Javon’s journey?

My hope is that you read this story and look at your own life, your own struggles, and your own obstacles and have renewed inspiration to try one more solution. You might have failed 999 times before, but maybe this one will work.

My other hope is that you can see how obsolete our school system has become. It’s not the teachers fault — I know that I pointed out so many mistakes the teacher made, but what is the teacher supposed to do as well?

We need to stop looking at only the outcomes of the school system. Yes, student test scores suck. Yes, there is a massive Achievement Gap. Yes, there is massive income inequality in this country. But none of those things will resolve itself if we continue to support an old and obsolete 19th century school system.

If you really want to know what is going on, I highly suggest you read my 4-part series on “Redesigning the K12 System” on Medium. com.

I founded an education think tank to help educators and school districts improve their quality of learning. I ran a Teacher Development program for 10 years, helping thousands of teachers increase their skills, understanding and capacity to reach any student.

I taught workshops for school administrators, principals and superintendents also for 10 years, to help them be better leaders, supervisors of teachers, evaluators of teacher talent, and also how to reach more kids.

What annoys me is that no one seems to see “reality.” And I don’t know what to do about it. When every single American graduates from a 19th Century high school, it automatically places one more obstacle in your way.

Not only do you have all the regular obstacles of life, but now you need to overcome having an obsolete education too. If you want to learn more about what a 21st Century education looks like, I’m providing my other Medium.com article on the topic.

Hard working Americans have two problems they must solve. The first problem is figuring out how you can learn all five basic 21st century skills, so you can earn more money for yourself and your family.

The second problem is putting enough pressure on your school district to change — and to stop teaching 19th century skills in high school and adopt a 21st century curriculum — like I outline in the article.

But you need to be aware that change cannot happen — if you threaten and yell at people.

My hope is that educators, parents and concerned citizens will share this article with anyone that wants to “talk” about the school system. The minute someone says they know how to “fix” it — you tell them to read this article and hear what they have to say.

I have spent 20 years inside K12 classrooms. I have visited hundreds of school districts. I have seen over 10,000 classrooms and teachers and thousands and thousands of students. I don’t know everything, but I know how to fix our schools and I know how to teach kids how to be successful.

I want to be part of the solution for America. I’m tired of complainers and nay-sayers. I’m an educator, so here’s my response to you — “go sit in the corner and take a time-out!”

My think tank, Education Development Institute can help school districts transform their obsolete schools into 21st century learning environments. And my online school for 21st century skills can help adults who have already graduated from high school and college learn the five basic skills they must have if they want to earn more money over the next 50 years.

It has taken me a full year to get everything up and running, but I finally did it. Let me know what you think. Please leave plenty of comments, positive and critical — because knowing what you think is more important for new articles and what additional questions I need to address.

Every American deserves a fair chance at being successful — this is the only way I know how to level the playing field for everyone equally.

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Professor Schwartz

Professor Schwartz

Former Superintendent | Ed Consultant | Speaker/Author — Go to my homepage at https://leafacademy.org