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?