I had a teaching assignment in a really rough school; my hallway was known as Chiraq, or The Crazies, or Land No Administrator Dare Venture. I came in midway through the year, and was told point blank by my students that I would not last a week. "We ran away two teachers," they said truthfully, "We give you a week."
And they tried it.
I called everyone to vent about it.
I meditated on it.
And one day; I walked boldly into the principal's office and threatened to quit if something wasn't done about the behavior problems. I wasn't really going to quit; I was strapped for cash, and I had not had health insurance in seven months.
There were issues with gangs.
Mothers who had abandoned sons...and daughters.
Parents who had been killed.
Mothers who were but eleven years their child's senior.
There were eighth graders that read on a second grade level (if that), single digit scores on state tests, and a refusal to believe that they were capable of anything, ANYTHING, good.
I stuck to my guns, and keep teaching, keep reaching, and saw progress....one inch at a time. They complained, fought, cursed me out, threatened physical violence, wrote nice--cussword riddled--misspelled sentiments on my desk for me to find, stole my cell phone, my lunch--"the fat bitch didn't need it anyway", they snickered--skateboarded on freshly broken furniture, and found all kinds of other interesting ways to chase away my sanity.
Well, I assigned a Black History project about a month into my stay; they were actually trying to do it!!!! I felt like GOD that day! That is until I overheard one of my students dismissing the Black Panthers as stupid members of a gang. Me being me, I assigned THAT kid one of the Black Panthers as the center of his project.
I looked up a bit later as the class seemed a bit too quiet, especially for eighth graders. I found this same kid intensely searching the dictionary. I asked him what he was searching for. He looked at me like I was plum stupid, which was normal, "The Black Panthers Ms. Goodman". "Oh sweetie", I say, "You won't find them in the dictionary". I chuckle a bit, these kids really had no idea how to use reference books, but at least he was trying. Yes! Score: kids 1 million, Me: (maybe two?)
He goes to get his textbook. "You won't find them there either", I said while still looking on.
He looks at me like I'm stupid again, which I am quite used to. Then he puts the textbook away, and grabs a student encyclopedia. Now, as I realize what is happening, I am not amused at all. "Uh, You won't find them there, either. I will get you some sources." I say.
He then looks exasperated.
"You mean to tell me, I can't find them in the dictionary....I can't find them in the social studies book.... I can't find them in the encyclopedia or any other book here either?!!! Ms. Goodman?!"
"Yes?" I reply calmly.
"You write and stuff right?"
"Yes." I say
"I mean books and stuff?" he asked, still exasperated.
"Yes". I said, a bit confused.
"Well?!! Where is our book?"
My young one, thank you for the fire and the responsibility. Here is your book.
Mind you, this book is not necessarily for eighth graders, and it does not solve the issue originally presented by the student, yet it does answer the students call for me to understand his plight in the classroom, if for no other reason than I have stood in that spot before. Our classrooms hold so many children who look and think, and feel like we once felt. Our classrooms are filled with students who have no validation, who have no voices that sound like theirs. ALL children belong. ALL children should be reached right where they are because there is something special about that space and there is nothing wrong with them. Those students need teachers that understand, they need teachers to answer their calls, to validate them, to feed them with books, with lessons, and stories that answer the demands of academics and reach beyond those academics to speak to their souls.
So, I hear you young soul. I hear you. I saw your frustration and I still see it in the many beautiful students that I teach. Your question, the boldness of it, was one of the sparks that inspired this book. So, here is my effort to validate you; here is your book, and many more to come.