Friday, June 20, 2008

Teaching in the Hood!

I guess that's what God had in mind for me all along really. I've been asked by so many districts to consider going back to teaching in the classroom. I've had so much fun teaching from the center stage of over 100 venues over the past couple of years - mainly military bases, but there have been quite a few conferences, adventure camps, and even a few corporate offices who have called me to come speak. Faith comes with me of course, and I don't think I'd be bringing her back into the classroom other than through her image perhaps. I have a few 4'x 3' over sized posters of her courtesy of the Ft. Lewis PX...they'll be put up in the room when and/or if I go back to teaching.

I've been successful in the past teaching just about every type of kid; Oklahoma Baptist University had some really fine and upstanding citizens...when the administration was looking anyway! I loved those kids - so very normal in every single way. Sometimes I just wish their parents and those at the university would let them express themselves without having to do so with cloaks over their faces and their hearts. I have to say without a blink of the eye however, that my favorite classroom setting was smack dab in the middle of the hood! Santa Fe South Junior High, but to be honest, I taught the 9th graders - so it was high school. THOSE were the best kids ever in my opinion, not necessarily in the opinion of the Oklahoma City police. LOL

I spent a good amount of time these past couple of years in and out of NYC's finest areas as well; Manhattan (including Hell's Kitchen and Harlem), as well as Queens, and in Chicago's West Loop area. I know when I say this that you'll understand - - kids are kids. I couldn't see or hear much of a difference between the Latinos in the City over the Latinos in the 405. Everyone wants respect, everyone wants love, everyone wants to be understood - and they want to keep a part of their own culture pure without trashing it up with all the "White" philosophy - I get that. One thing that hindered me in the classroom both at Santa Fe South and Oklahoma City Public when I taught 9th grade English there, was the mandate of "No Child Left Behind". Teachers (especially those about to retire) had other names for it - "No Child Progresses Here" and "Keep Every Kid Stupid" but there has to be a middle ground in there somewhere.

I found that teaching the state's required curriculum wasn't working as easily or as smoothly as perhaps the people in the Hodges Building (SDE) wanted. When a kid can't read at the 9th grade level because he or she is at a disadvantage how can we expect the kid to thrive - age doesn't have a thing to do with it. Sticking a kid in the 9th grade because he's 15 or she's 16 and can't be held in the 8th grade makes no sense if the kid can't grasp verbally or in writing what it is that I'm trying to get through to them. Romeo and Juliet - Shakespeare's version - OUT THE DOOR. I began teaching the story through means that were better understood "Crypts and Blood" it made an impact. Objectives were met, kids learned. Shakespeare? Well, he's rolling over in his grave I'm sure, but the movies were watched, both Leonardo's version and the original 1969 classic - compared, and even enjoyed.

When times change you have to change with them or be beaten up along the path they drag you through. I don't mind a bump or two now and then, but to be held accountable for what a nation is doing is not fair to the teacher, the kid, the parents, the community, the district, the state or anyone. I was reading before I hit Kindergarten - but that was 1966. I remember going to segregated schools, I remember Billy Mitchell because he was our only (yes, our only) black student. He was awesome just because he was cool - but to be different and cool, that was really something. Watching "Remember the Titans" brought it all back to me; the hate, the angry parents on both sides, busing, and the comparing - the constant comparing. Things haven't changed that much in terms of kids wanting respect, wanting to fit in, wanting to be a part of their own culture as well as being mainstreamed but it isn't easy - a rubber tree may bend better than a solid you understand?

I am the quintessential rubber tree! Pull me, bend me, shake me, I even dance when called upon to do so -- and the smile on my face is real. I have tattoos. I won't cover them up. I have been shot, I have been in a situation where I had to disarm a student or two - stop a fight, get hit, be the one to show no fear and then turn around and hug that same kid to let him know he's not really any different than the one he just wanted to kill - brothers really, different mothers. I've been kicked out of schools for turning the administration in for stealing, I've been asked to leave the classroom when I turned a principal in for hurting a kid - but my records stand: My students made better scores every year I taught them, and they passed the Compass tests to get into colleges too. I can't say my teaching methods are orthodox - well, actually I'm quite proud of the fact that my teaching skills are not orthodox, but I can say that my kids remember how to write a proper essay! I can say that my kids remember who the 26th president was! I can say that my babies, my precious students are forever mine, and they know NEVER to end a sentence with a preposition! EVER. LOL

What can I say? I'm a teacher. I teach, it's what I do. I thought about applying in the best and more posh schools this year to give myself a little break - but my heart jumped out of my chest and smacked the crap out of my head for even thinking it! Luis DuQue would tell you "She's a ghetto teacher" I prefer the word "hood" it doesn't carry the same connotation - - my kids know connotations too. It's not only a spelling word, it's a reason to make a decision. I guess I could always go into the new school with my new 7" scar on my belly and tell the new students that the guy that did that to me graduated this year - but he had to get out of the intensive care unit first! wouldn't be true of course, but it might make them listen to me long enough to call roll.

Hoots to you guys in the 405; the 312, 212, 202, and any other blessed neighborhood where I can eat a good pizza, meet up with a few kids, and correct your English without being shanked. I love you.

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