School is starting in 10 minutes. I have a lot of kids who are going to be coming in, and sometimes, I wish I was a better teacher. I wish I was there for them more, and above all, I wish I could be myself in the classroom instead of trying to listen to the advice of other teachers who have a style that doesn’t suit who I am.
The school is a bubble for myself and the kids, insulated from the conditions of the outside, cruel world of the inner city. For a lot of them, the classroom and the school are the only safe places they feel. Sometimes I forget about that when I get into fight-or-flight mode in classroom management, and I wish I personally didn’t get into that mode, but that’s where I am right now. It’s unfortunate, but it is life as a new and nervous teacher.
Once the nerves go away, I think I’ll be able to take a step back during the actual school day, not after or anything like that. The school is the in-between space of the Venn diagram, an intersection of the lives of all these kids and all these adults. It is a cross-section of values, and in the special education world, these things become all the more complicated.
A good teacher always thinks about how everything is his/her fault. Teachers will have instinctual reactions to blame the kids for their misbehaviors, but it’s about our later reactions to take a step back and realize that these kids have much bigger problems than what goes on in the classroom. Ed Burns, a 20-year-veteran police officer turned teacher in Baltimore City, called middle school hallways often a testing ground for the street — and what we have to realize, as instructors and people who work with inner-city youth facing a plethora of problems is that kids are bringing home into school.
Even while I would never have admitted it at the time, I brought home into school, too. School was the place I felt insulated and safe, and that is something we can say for most of the kids that walk through these doors. At some level, I don’t realize how different some of the things I deal with at school aren’t what I’m used to until I go home, so the experience is like a professional form of Stockholm Syndrome.
No, I’m not hired as a counselor, nor am I hired as a social worker. It’s not my job day in and day out to feed my kids. My job is a teacher, and a school is simply a microcosm of society and the community that a single society reflects. You can go into any school in Baltimore City, and there are unique things indicative of the culture of these schools, but the differences pale in comparison to the similarities.
Brown v. Board of Ed. may have ruled school segregation unconstitutional in 1954, but school segregation has actually gotten worse than it was in 1954 by many measures, including racial isolation and kids of color growing up in communities of high or medium poverty. The black-white exposure index shows that schools have gotten even more segregated now than they were in 1954.
To truly fix the achievement gap, we have to fix a lot of the things that contribute to the achievement gap in the first place. That means that the system needs a deep look inward and hard conversations to ameliorate inequities in poverty, structural racism, school segregation, and mass incarceration. I teach in a school that has a single white kid across the middle and high schools. It’s hard to zoom out and describe how this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, that the dreams of our civil rights leaders wasn’t a world where poor minority kids were segregated and concentrated in select areas.
I have to content myself with the fact that the deep changes to the status quo to truly bring about the change we want to see in academic achievement might not happen for a long time, or might never happen.
There are 10 minutes before school starts, and I go in with the knowledge that all these things are at play, that the problems I tackle on a daily basis are just a lot bigger than any of us realize. But we have to go on and move on, and trust God’s plan for us rather than trying to glide by thinking we can save everything and save the whole world. I used to just have to read about all these things in distant academic literature and textbooks. Now, I witness it and live it first-hand, in a simple state of shock and heartbreak.
I find myself praying and reading the Bible less these days. I would be lost without my faith, but I still wonder: how can a good God let all this happen? Here, is God still God?
School is starting in 10 minutes. I make the sign of the cross to brace myself for the good, the bad, the funny, and the ugly. School is starting in 10 minutes.