Friday, November 03, 2006

Angels fall without you there

[Black Balloon, Goo Goo Dolls]

Conferences were AWESOME last night. I absolutely love getting to meet my students' parents and guardians. Especially fun are the parents I connected with last year who stopped in to say hi. But it was so encouraging- I have two students who are repeating my class and I desire SO strongly to see them pass. One is barely scraping by and the other has been failing kind of miserably thus far. It was awesome because I met with the mother of each and we hammered out the plans to get the two in after school to get where they need to be.

It's so interesting the way different parents work. The one mother (who son has been failing with a 40 or so percent average) was so concerned about the situation but really seeking guidance on how I could team with her and the Larry's (not his real name) father to ensure that he succeeds in my class. I shared my concerns about the fact that A) he never talks and simply doesn't communicate with me (when I try to talk to him he just stares at the ground- he's just SO quiet!) and B) his literacy level is very low and I want to work with him to teach him how to undertand what he's doing. The lack in literacy skills is HUGE in my school, but his is probably around a third grade level. The majority of what we do is over his head, but though I try to diversify for his level and explain and adapt things he simply doesn't talk to me so I can't seem to get through to him. To get to the point, though, the mother wasn't upset about his grade at all- really just there to figure out how we can get him where he needs to be. In the end, we decided his father can pick him up after school at least once a week so he can stay and get caught up and, if he's willing, get some one-on-one help. Today when I saw him I asked Larry if he spoke to his mother, and he nodded. I asked how he felt about the plan and he said, "I'll be coming after school next week." Seriously, I think that's almost as much as he's ever spoken to me in the entire 3 quarters that I've had him now. But my heart completely leapt for joy! Yay!!

The other mother was a bit more on the frustrated end of the spectrum. You can tell she's reaching her frazzled point in dealing with a stubborn and unmotivated 15 year old son. Isaac (again, not his real name) is someone I've worked SO hard to build a relationship with. I referred him to our (awesome) freshman counselor and they set him up to be able to catch up and graduate on time if he stays focused, despite failing most all of his classes last year. For awhile he was coming in after school and pulled his grade up to the C range, but then he dropped off in the last two weeks of the quarter and squeaked by with a 70 (the lowest possible score to get a D on our scale). I was able to soothe some of her ruffles and assure her that I am willing to go as far as I possibly can out of my way to get Isaac to succeed, and she said that she knows he really likes me and loves my class and that it's the one class he's willing to do the work in to pass. I spoke with him today and he fought the desire to go to sleep (his mother said he's staying up until 1-2 watching TV every night but she simply can't get him to go to bed) and he actually got some quality work done. So the road will be long but I have faith that he'll pass my class.

My goal is that EVERY single student would pass my class- and I don't inflate grades. I don't give random points so a kid will look like they passed on paper. Every single point each student has was EARNED by them. The fact is, my kids are simply the last ones anyone cares about. Inner-city kids have it rough, but at the same time a lot of people put time, money, and effort into providing resources for those kids. My kids live in the middle of nowhere, in a rural district over an hour away from the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area and the fact is that they are overlooked. Most of them are Black, the vast majority live in poverty, and the chips are stacked against them. I can't change the outside world. I can't even change the culture they live in (which contributes heavily to the problems they face). But I can ensure that they not only get the best education possible in my class and actually learn about the history of the world they live in, but also that they have a positive role model who lives out the high standards she teaches.

One quick story, then I'll get some sleep: About a month ago we were learning about the Mandate of Heaven in China, and how the Zhou (pronounced joh) dynasty conquered the Shang dynasty because of the corruption in the government of the Shang. The Zhou believed that the corruption meant that heaven had removed it's blessing from the Shang and it was their duty to conquer the Shang and replace them with a morally sound government. I explained the concept of corruption to my students, and how it involves the misuse and abuse of power by those in authority for their own gain. I used the example of myself- how if I changed grades in exchange for money that would be me misusing my power to determine a student's future in regards to their grades and college in order to bring personal gain to myself via extra cash. Some of them were like, "Yeah, right. You know you'd take the money." This isn't because they think I would do that, per se- they're just so used to the idea that money is the end all, and you do whatever you have to do to get as much as you can.

I promised them that even if someon in my class was a millionaire, and had a check for a million dollars that I knew would clear the bank, and even if I would NEVER get caught, I would not raise that grade even a fraction of a percent. This set them OFF. THE. CHAIN. They were like, "Nah, Mz. Teakay, you cuh-ray-zeh'." They of course wanted to know why, and I explained that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking, and I want to live as a woman of integrity. For one, money doesn't buy happiness, and I don't want anything that isn't rightfully acquired by me-- bribery is simply wrong and I couldn't look myself in the mirror or have any semblance of peace when I settle into my bed at night and reflect on what I've done. Plus, I personally believe that I will one day stand before my God and answer to Him for all I've done, and the choices I have made, and to accept the money would go against how His Word says I am to live.

This REALLY set them off the chain. I mean, the chain was no longer in sight. Almost the entire class, in their own way, said, "Iss a'ight, Teakay. You's just gotta ask for forgiveness after you do it, thass all."

No, I'm not making this up or exagerrating. This was coming from all students- white, black, male, female, mature, immature, those with F's, those with A's... all across the board. I had one of those moments where my heart just broke. Like I said, they've been taught that money will make their lives happy and whole and right. It's a dirty lie, but it's bought into by most everyone in their lives and it's tragic. I know that for most of my students I am their most respected and loved teacher. Some of them tell me this, many of their parents told me this last night, and I hear it from other teachers. Yet I know that I have to lock up all of my stuff and I don't dare leave anything valuable unguarded. No matter how much my students care about me, if I have something they want then a lot of them have been somehow programmed to believe that they deserve it and that it's perfectly justifiable to take it. Very rarely is a lost pocketbook or wallet in my school ever turned in. It's just understood that if you left it somewhere it's someone else's free game.

But this is why I teach- to show my kids that I chose a profession in which my paycheck hovers above the poverty line by a couple hundred dollars, even when a person of my talents and abilities could be making at least double what I make now had I chosen to pursue a field like medicine, business, or law. I can't even afford the iPod I so desire- yet I'm happy. My life is fulfilled. For one, I have my relationship with Christ. But also, I have them. I love my kids. I'm actually tearing up a little because I care so deeply about them. Some of them I wish I could just bring home and let them see that life can be joyful and complete without sex and violence and drugs and lies and cheating and treachery and the dishonest ways in which they try to get their hands on money. Some days I get tired of getting up and working my ass off every day trying to save the world one kid at at time. But then I see my kids, and I meet their parents who want so much more for them, and I remember the future that is ahead of them if I give up on working for them, and I am absolutely certain that it's worth it.

I know I've been silent on my classes and such for awhile. I've actually just felt more protective of them this year, I think, and I didn't always use the best discretion in my old blog. Mainly because where I was at this time last year was mostly focused on either complaining about my school (and sometimes my actual kids) or about just how shocked I was at the culture and such. Now that I've settled in I've kept things more to myself. But trust me, my life is still dominated by school and my kids, and I like it that way. I don't know how long I'll be here, but as long as I am then I refuse to give less than my all.

On that note, it's time to sleep. 'Night.