Wednesday, May 16, 2007

She's in love with the boy

[some country song by some country artist. Meh.]

I love Jason.

In other news, I also love American Idol. I think I might be PMS'ing early, because I cry at everything. At the senior awards ceremony yesterday (where all the seniors' scholarships are announced- remember, I teach high school) a girl got a Gates Millennium scholarship which will pay UNLIMITED monies for ALL expenses all the way through a doctorate degree for her. Could you imagine that? What a blessing. She's in the extremely impoverished local Native American tribe, and it's just incredible. So, though I was sitting amongst the most insolent, selfish, and rude section of juniors in the gym (I was the only teacher with the bal... gumption... to do so), I cried with tears streaming down my cheeks. Good reason, but still.

Then, I almost lost it today when I reprimanded my US History class. Yesterday they all decided that instead of doing 20 minutes- TWENTY minutes!- of reading together in small groups to prep for the rest of the lesson they would just put their heads down and sleep. Now, that ceremony yesterday completely threw the ENTIRE schedule of school off, I had zero planning, had to constantly discipline those afore-mentioned juniors as I watched my babies (my first classes last year were all juniors then, and almost all of them are graduating now) get college scholarships, lost 40 minutes of third period, and then had about an 8 minute lunch. Needless to say, I was already pissy. So by the time it came to be fourth period- my last class of the day- I was testy. When they put their heads down while reading I was downright angry.

See, I was sitting there reading stories about people like Emmett Till, a beautiful 14-year-old boy who was murdered- horrifyingly so- simply because he whistled at a white woman, and he happened to be black. One the two white men who killed him was the woman's husband, and after getting freed by an all-white, all-male jury (twice, no less) the man said something to the effect of killing the boy was his only choice because he couldn't let no [sic] black boy think he was as good as any white man. The poor kid was from Chicago, visiting relatives in Mississippi and simply didn't understand the way the world worked for blacks in the South in the 1950's.

I read about a man in the military whose wife and child almost died in childbirth, so he rode a bus home to the South from his northern station at a military base to see them, and was sleeping... a white police officer got on, woke the man up (he was black), took him outside, and shot him in the heart, killing him. Reports showed that the white officer basically thought the man was a Freedom Rider- he just wanted to see his family, and they had to live the rest of their years with their father and husband dead.

There are countless stories of people- black and white alike- who gave their lives in the Civil Rights movement. People died so my students could have a chance at trying to attain equality. And to see my students decide they wanted to sleep because it was the last period of the day and my room was warmer than usual (not my fault- my school's HVAC system SUCKS)... well, I was so angry I couldn't speak to them. I couldn't even talk to them, not at all. I just put in a video about the movement, handed out their work and tried to make it through until 3:00 without losing it.

Today, though, they heard from me. They heard my heart. I told them the truth- that for two hours, I saw them and their peers jeer and sneer at Seniors getting scholarships and getting the chance at a better life. They laughed, text messaged on cell phones, hit each other, everything, and couldn't keep it together for one simple thing. And that's fine- sure, there's pressure out in the school to keep up an image and being studious and smart isn't cool. But then they come to my classroom, where I have worked my heart out to get them the education they deserve, a chance to really learn and prepare themselves for college, and they just want to sleep? And this is about the Civil Rights Movement, of all things. People- maybe their own relatives, but people just like them, people just like me- set aside the petty monotony of daily life and stood up for a cause, for righteousness, and some of them were slain. But they joined together to make this world a better place.

I put it straight- maybe out in the school it's not cool to be smart, to care, to want to change the world. It's about who slept with so-and-so and the hot new lyrics in Jeezy or Joc's latest. Whatever. But the fact is that in my classroom, we can actually set that aside, open our hearts, and care. We can see the faces of people who died for what we have today, and we can embrace their struggle and continue the fight. The schools are more segregated today than before Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The Little Rock Nine put their lives on the line to walk into a white school and get their education- I looked at my class of 15 black students and 2 Latinos and told them that they can be the ones to join today's Civil Rights Movement. They can get an awesome education and be that talented and bright teacher who goes into classrooms like W@rren County High School and ensures that the upcoming generation gets the opportunities needed in order to change the system.

I was straight- I told them that I could be doing a lot of things, but I believe in them enough to be here, pouring myself into them. I have had people all but flat out ask me why I would teach poor black kids in the South, and it angers me. How dare they judge my students! They don't know them. They don't see Jason, whose mother is addicted to crack and has dozens of men in her bed every week, "earning" her next fix, and who didn't shield him when he was young from those same men. They don't know Byron, whose father beats him. They don't know the dozens of students I have who simply don't have a father at all, or Ruby, who is haunted daily by memories of hiding behind the shed sobbing because her mother abandoned her, and then her father simply gave her and her siblings over to the state because he just didn't want to take care of them. She then looked for love the wrong way and was forced by her foster mother last year to have an abortion. She was only 14. They don't know Shana, who was raped repeatedly as a child. The stories are endless. And the fact is, generational poverty continues the cycle. So I'm here, fighting today's fight, and I refuse to let my students put their heads down because they just don't think they have anything better to do.

The whole point, before I lost myself in all of this, is that today it took every ounce of self-control to not cry. I was raw and honest with them- I said, "I am here before you not as your teacher, but as a person." I put it straight. And it was amazing when some of them said, "I appreciate it". They were reminded that this isn't the end, this thing called high school. And I told them that- in ten years not a single one of them will care at all how popular they were in high school unless they drop out and then spend all their time with people in high school when they're 27. Not a desirable future. They know it, I know it, and I put it all on the lines.

You never saw kids more into history than today. It was seriously, to me, even more intense than those scenes in Freedom Writers (great movie, PS). So that's that emotional story. I'm ready to cry right now.

Oh, speaking of, also today was the end of the movie Amistad in my two sections of World History, then the beginning of learning about the Rwandan genocide, which meant that to teach about genocide I pulled on their knowledge of the most infamous genocide- the Holocaust. That is also rather emotional subject matter, to say the least.

Plus, tonight they showed Bothell and Seattle on American Idol because that's where Blake is from and I actually did get teary eyed. I can't wait to get to Seattle, to Bothell, to home. Also, I was a little emotional to see Melinda go, but I absolutely love Blake and was delighted that he didn't go home. Yay Blake!

My fingers are cramping. I'm going to bed, and talking to my man.

One love.