By Yanae McCray, KIPP TEAM and Newark Collegiate Academy Alumna

Yanae spoke to a group of KIPP New Jersey teachers and staff during our first Heartbeat Day - a day to celebrate the start of the school year with teammates across schools and align our work around Our Heartbeat - the shared principles and beliefs that drive how we approach our work.

Promises made to children are sacred. As students at KIPP New Jersey schools, we were told this all the time. Recently, I’ve been thinking more about what this means – for teachers, students, and families.

When I think of promises, I see an image of two young girls on the playground crossing their pinkies, sharing secrets and promising to be friends forever.

But as I get older and a little wiser (hopefully), I know that the promises we make – just like the promises teachers and parents make – hold a greater depth than the ones we make as small children.

We know how important it is to keep promises to kids. But as adults, we also know it’s easier said than done. I now know that when you teach a room full of kids, keeping promises for all of them is not easy.

When I was at TEAM Academy in the sixth grade, I learned all about this. As a sixth grader, I enjoyed my expressive nature. I talked a lot. A lot of that talking happened in class.

I particularly remember my sixth-grade math class with Mr. Reagans. I was quite talkative. Mr. Reagans didn’t appreciate my constant talking as much as I did. He told me every time I spoke out of turn in class, I would receive a detention. Like most children, I continued to talk ­– because you know I’m no quitter.

If you’re wondering if Mr. Reagans kept his promise, let’s just say I spent a lot of time in afterschool detention and on punishment at home. It took me a while, but I finally learned to curb my excessive talking. I realize now, even though I thought that consequence was a little harsh, he was keeping his promise to me by pushing me to be a better student. He was also keeping his promise to the other students in the classroom by being an advocate for their learning.

That’s the other thing about keeping promises to students. It’s not always going to be this inspiring Freedom Writers story. No. Sometimes, it will require an enormous amount of strength and tough love on your part. As an educator, you need to understand this and still continue to face the challenge of keeping your promises head on.

Because it’s really important to keep your promises.

I’ve had a blessed journey with KIPP. I’ve seen many places and done so many things with KIPP New Jersey and interning with KIPP School Leadership Programs. I realized through these experiences that it was really easy to keep a promise to a student like me.

Although I was talkative, I was still a good student who did well in class and got along with all my teachers. But what about students that didn’t fit that description? What about students that make bad choices, over and over again? There were plenty of students that fit that description during my time in high school. I had classmates that repeatedly made bad choices. It would have been easy to break promises to them. Maybe promises were broken in their lives at some point. I don’t know.

I’m not here to place blame on teachers, students, or anyone. All this to say we all are responsible for holding each other accountable as students, parents, and communities.

Here's a promise we all shared at Heartbeat Day:

"In this room today I take responsibility for the promises I make to my students as an educator. Today I hold myself and my peers accountable for their promises by being and advocate for my students and their education. I will remember to see the good in my students, co-workers, coaches, and school leaders especially in times where I feel I can only see the bad. It is in this room today is where I declare that no promise is to grand, no child is unworthy and no work environment is too difficult for me to keep my promises. For I am an educator and this is what I do, but more importantly who I am."

So teachers, as you prepare to kick off the new school year, remember the promises you make won’t be easily forgotten, so be sure to keep them.

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