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I am a mommy, scribe, and middle-school English teacher. I am trying to cope with being separated from my beloved. DoUWantMore? email me: theprisonerswife@gmail.com

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Teaching in the Trenches

Posted by the prisoner's wife On 10:55 PM

My classroom is a battleground.

Everyday I fight with my students, trying to get them to remember bits of grammar, vocabulary words, and find importance in the works of literature that have changed my life. Everyday I threaten, and sometimes, I bribe them into learning (I hope) what it is they need to know to be just a little bit successful in this world. And everyday, after a day of threatening, and bribing, and yelling, and calling people’s parents, and shaking my head, I come home tired and spent, barely able to stay up longer than my 2-year old, only to return in the morning to do it all over again.

Teaching is a venerable profession.

Many have tried to tame a classroom, but have failed miserably, only to quit, disgruntled and complaining about the kids after a year or two. I won’t front, the idea of quitting and abandoning the headache (and heartache) of the classroom has crossed my mind plenty of times. But where will that leave my kids?

My students are a special group. Many of them are functioning three and four grade-levels below where they should be. They are facing a myriad of issues that no one their age should face. Several have no parents, are in foster care or live with distant relatives who do little but collect their check. And most of them come from single-parent households, where mom or grandma is working so hard she can barely pay attention. My students are both too grown for their 13 years, and too immature to handle all that has been placed on their shoulders.

Dangerous minds are wasting away.

I admit, I wanted to be the next Joe Clark or Erin Gruwell, the next inspirational teacher leading my group of disenfranchised students to the Promised Land (and maybe a movie), but that is proving to be harder than I imagined. You see, I thought that if I was real with the kids, showed I cared about them, and demonstrated that anything was possible, that education was the ticket out of any messed up situation, that they’d hunker down and study until As and Bs blossomed like wildflowers. But that isn’t happening.

Several of my students are apathetic, at best, toward their education. They don’t see the value in math or science or learning how to write an essay. They can’t see how it will help them further down the line. They know college is out there, but to my dismay, many have expressed interest in NOT going. My kids are bored, and only seem to be turned on by Soulja Boy and Sidekicks, by MySpace and name-brand clothing. Getting them interested in school is harder than cracking the Matrix, and I’m still searching for the code.

I am afraid for my students.

I am afraid for our future. Without an education, my students—Black and Latino—are almost certainly doomed to struggle for the rest of their lives. A 2006 article in the NY Times writes,

...in the country's inner cities, the studies show, finishing high school is the exception, legal work is scarcer than ever and prison is almost routine, with incarceration rates climbing for blacks even as urban crime rates have declined.
Although the problems afflicting poor black men have been known for decades, the new data paint a more extensive and sobering picture of the challenges they face.

"There's something very different happening with young black men, and it's something we can no longer ignore," said Ronald B. Mincy, professor of social work at Columbia University and editor of "Black Males Left Behind" (Urban Institute Press, 2006) (more).

My Black male students seem especially disinterested in excelling in school, choosing instead, to hide behind an air of coolness and hyper masculinity. Instead of emulating positive examples of blackness, they choose to model their stance and pose and language after many of the (worst) rappers in the business. And it’s very frustrating.

As someone who was where they are, growing up in the same neighborhood and experiencing many of the same things, it’s frustrating to see so many falling into habits that can trap them into a life that they are not ready for. To see them falling into this life that is so totally avoidable and unnecessary is painful. But even more painful is not having the answers. There is no magic pill or bullet to turn this thing around. There have been studies upon studies conducted, but still, our kids are underachieving.

How do we fix this?

How can we save our kids?

6 Response to 'Teaching in the Trenches'

  1. Lovebabz Said,
    http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/03/teaching-in-trenches.html?showComment=1204805700000#c6975371627643118028'> Thursday, March 06, 2008 4:15:00 AM

    Alice Walker said it best: "Anything We Love, Can Be SAVED" I believe this whole heartedly. This is why I've adotped 4 children. This iwhy I ahve worked with at-risk youth...aren't all youth at risk?

    Don't focus on the big issue. Continue to focus on what your doing. Don't think of your classroom as a battelground...even though I know it feels that way. Think of it as a garden, and you are the Master Gardener. Continue to water ans cultivate and grow and VIOLA! It is easy to get overwhelmed with statistcal data and the media does not do these kids any favors. But a teacher that is divine. What you do today will have far reaching positive repercussions that you may or may not even know you had a hand in.


  2. Christina Said,
    http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/03/teaching-in-trenches.html?showComment=1204813320000#c7100845345080152179'> Thursday, March 06, 2008 6:22:00 AM

    I wasn't a disrespectful child or bad, I was just a lost child. I was raised by a grandmother who could barely keep her eyes open for the meals we could afford.

    I couldn't concentrate when I got to school. I was so exhausted from living the hard life I had to endure at home.

    School barely held my interest and when it did all that left me as soon as I stepped back into my drug infested neighborhood.

    You are doing a wonderful part in your students lives. You don't think they are hearing you but one day something you said or did is going to make the difference in their lives.

    I'm now 38 years old and if it weren't for those glimpses of hope from the teachers that cared I know I could have chosen a different route.

    Things are different now days though, I somewhat understand this. In my heart I know you are making a difference. I hear it through our conversations, I feel it through these words you write.

    Your job would be a bit easier if we all played parts in these students lives- fathers, mothers,foster parents that truly care, the community. I'm bias but I think you are a wonderful teacher:+)


  3. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/03/teaching-in-trenches.html?showComment=1204909140000#c4445515610044873824'> Friday, March 07, 2008 8:59:00 AM

    Prisoner's Wife...

    Keep up the good fight!

    I’ve awarded your blog a “You Make My Day” award. For more info, click here:

    You Make My Day

    Bless up,


  4. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/03/teaching-in-trenches.html?showComment=1204914480000#c2823992081473126177'> Friday, March 07, 2008 10:28:00 AM

    LoveB: thanks for the advice. SO much of how we relate to our students (and people in general) is wrapped up in how we think & approach them. thank you for mentioning the garden. i am just tired, sis & they driving me up the wall. i have to remember to ALWAYS sta positive. thanks for the reminder!

    Xtina: thank you, even tho you mad bias, nahmean? lol. so many of my students are like you described your younger self & it's so hard because i'm having a hard time reaching them (i think?). maybe they will come back later & say how i helped (i hope! lol). thanks for the perspective.

    Geoffery WOW, that's such an honor coming from you! i love it!


  5. Anonymous Said,
    http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/03/teaching-in-trenches.html?showComment=1205104020000#c6587589537427036081'> Sunday, March 09, 2008 4:07:00 PM

    Maybe you could form little reading groups like clubs, get them to read the newspaper articles and bring some to class. I can fully understand that learning grammer is not exciting and very intangible for these students but maybe if they saw some 'use' for and meaning relating directly to what you are teaching at the time, maybe their interest could be awakened and they will eventually make the connection.

    I know there are only so many class minutes and hours to do all of this but substituting regular hours for some of these and other ideas might bring the change and eagerness you are expecting.

    Teaching will take its toll on you if you let it. I love lovebabz's suggestions. Feed and cultivate them, expose them to different experiences beyond their neighbourhoods and towns, and soon they will sprout and bloom and demand much more.

    Take care of yourself too so that your work doesn't wear you down.


  6. Stephen Bess Said,
    http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/03/teaching-in-trenches.html?showComment=1205173260000#c7907492184355987895'> Monday, March 10, 2008 11:21:00 AM

    I know that feeling, but I've come to realize that nothing worth while is easy. The battle continues even when your teaching young adults. I agree with lovebabz; We have to continue to do what we do for future genereations. We should do it even if we are out of the classroom. You are forever a teacher or as I call myself, a "lead student." Keep up the outstanding work!