04 Oct 2015 1 Comment
28 Sep 2015 Leave a comment
Someone whispered the word “fall” and suddenly, this:
27 Sep 2015 2 Comments
Before the school year began in August, I had a series of nightmares (as I often do before something big happens). In these nightmares, I was trying desperately to teach a new class of bright and joyful students, but the ghosts of my last class kept interrupting. They walked all over my room in their ghostly forms and made such a racket with their banging and talking and complaining, that I couldn’t teach my new class.
Of course, that’s just nonsense brought on by my own worries for the new school year. I looked forward to the opportunity to teach a new group of students who were much better behaved than my last class of crazy kids.
Just before the school year started, however, I received word that I would be teaching remedial reading in multiple grade levels across middle school, including, but not limited to, my students from last year–particularly, some of my most challenging students from last year. Suddenly my nightmare seemed more like a premonition than a silly dream.
The first few weeks of school went a lot better than I had expected, though. Most of my students were excited to be working with me and I felt relieved to know that I could build off of the past to ensure a better year for all of us.
But last week, everything changed again. Our school received word from the district that we had too many teachers and too few students. Two teachers needed to be transferred out to another school and everyone else was going to be shuffled around to cover the changing classes. Within that week, I went from teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade reading, to teaching 6th grade Language Arts exclusively. And just like that, my past students whom I both loved and dreaded were cut out of my day, like ghosts.
Sure, they’re still alive and making plenty of noise at the end of the hallway. I can still hear them when they go to lunch. And every so often, I see them walking between classes, or ducking around the hallway during classes, trying to avoid the Behavior Management Technicians who act as bouncers for the school.
It’s a bitter sweet feeling to let go of them so soon (and yet so late considering I already had them one full year). And now, as I transition into 6th grade Language Arts, I know that I’ll never have a class as difficult as that one (God willing), but I’m sure to always be surprised by the students handed into my care. I can already tell, these 6th grade students are going to be an interesting time–like a party at a zoo.
27 Jul 2015 1 Comment
Working in a place where everyone and their 30-year-old grandma has a tattoo, it’s been an interesting experience trying to explain mine to them. I thought it was simple to understand. Especially since so many of them understand the significance of a cross.
The difference stemmed from the fact that they think a tattoo should be a part of self expression. It’s very personal. Unless it’s a gang tattoo. Then it’s a part of a group identity and is meant to show loyalty.
“That’s a gang tattoo,” the kids told me in May. “You’re a part of a gang. Or at least a squad.”
“No,” I insisted.
“Yes,” they said. “It’s a tattoo that all these people got to show that their the same, right? That’s a gang tattoo.”
I was baffled (as I often am with these kids), but after I let the idea sink in, I accepted it as a difference in semantics. Since gangs are what they know, their vocabulary to describe what I have reflects that. They don’t understand standing in solidarity with others around the world, but they understand sticking up for a gang brother. And really, the two are the same.
What I mean to say is, I, apparently, am a part of a “gang,” which would make Jesus my gang leader. He’s a very strange sort of gang leader. He says things like, “If someone takes a swing at you, let him take another, too” and “Love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you.”
It was not the conversation I expected to have over my tattoo, but it has been a fascinating look into the world of my students and a chance to see myself in a new light. I already knew that I was a Citizen of Heaven (Philippians 3:20), an Ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20), a Slave of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:22), a Prisoner of Christ (Ephesians 3:1), a Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), a Child of God (John 1:12) and a Friend of God (John 15:15). But now, I have a new identity:
I’m Christ’s Gang Member (my students).
04 Jul 2015 Leave a comment
I got a tattoo.
In this day and age, that can be a mundane statement, or a damming one. I have been talked out of, scared out of and begged out of getting one many times before. To all of those who make that scrunched up and hurt face, I do apologize. I don’t mean to offend.
But this tattoo means more than a western taboo.
What it is:
13 Jun 2015 Leave a comment
When I first started this school year in my new school, I was warned by all that it was not going to be easy. I had blindly signed up to teach the hardest class of students who had run off so many teachers before me that they didn’t even know what it was like to learn.
The few teachers that stayed for more than a year were called survivors. The ones that fled before Christmas break were called normal or sane.
Even with all the warnings, I could have never been prepared for what I walked into on that first day and every day after. Between the verbal abuse of the students trying their best to make me cry and the constant threat of physical fights breaking out in my classroom, it was hard for me to maintain order well enough to teach.
But I am happy to say that I am a survivor! I went through the fire of October, February, May, and everything in between, and came out on the other side–alive, exhausted, and maybe just a little more refined… or at least in some ways. My awareness of new profanity has certainly increased as well as my understanding of colloquial terms for topics I have never wished to discuss with anyone. Ever. But in terms of my perseverance and abilities in the classroom, I have become refined.
There has been a lot of learning and teaching and learning even more–on my part, I mean. The students have been fighting against learning all the way. But I have been picking up all kinds of little pieces about their life and culture. Little phrases that they say a hundred times a day have become ingrained in my brain. Things like:
Triflin’ “you’re triflin'” “that’s triflin'” or “they be triflin'”
Petty (used in the same way as triflin’)
“That’s doin’ too much” (meaning I don’t like what you’re doing)
“Why are you wri’in’ so disrespectfully” (meaning sloppy) “That’s just extra” (meaning unnecessary, or more accurately, I don’t want to do this)
“Look how you feel!” (You should be embarrassed)
One line I really like is when a kid asked me, “Why are we called colored when you guys turn all different colors? You’re red and blue and purple…” as someone who turns splotchy red when emotional, I couldn’t disagree. We’re pretty colorful people. Of course, I tried to tell him that the term refers to the amount of melanin in the skin, but that doesn’t really negate his point.
Most interesting insults that a student has thrown at me all year-
First place: voodoo doll
Second place: cracker star
Best compliment from a student:
Best critique from a colleague:
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re like a Mary Poppins. And I like Mary Poppins. But a spoon full of sugar isn’t going to fix these kids.”
I have come a long way since my first day of teaching in the ghetto of Charlotte. My understanding of the kids, of their culture and upbringing, of the most unfortunate circumstances that affect them all, has grown exponentially. As dark as some of those fall months were and as much as I dreaded some mornings, I know that God had me go through it all for a reason. It was His strength that got me through every day. And now that the year is done, I am stoked for my next year teaching in the same school.
Because I am a survivor. I didn’t run away and I have signed on for another year. The same God that gave David his fearless courage to go against a giant has given me the courage to teach the most difficult student (even if I have to do it from a bit of a distance because he likes to pickpocket me.)
I learned so much this year on the west side of Charlotte, but I still have a lot to learn. I think another year is what I need for some more refining. Bring on the fire!
26 Apr 2015 Leave a comment
It’s been a long, hard year. I have never been so exhausted. There have been days and weeks where I thought I couldn’t make it through the year. In those weeks, all I wanted was the comfort and loving of Kafka.
There have also been days and occasionally weeks where I feel like I’ve got it all figured out… Or at least, handled well enough.
So far this school year, I’ve had four students of mine put in handcuffs, one allegedly in jail at the jaded age of 14. After a threat to my safety and several other death threats to students, another of mine has been sent off to God knows where, never to return.
It’s heartbreaking. Everything in me nearly shattered when I watched the resource officer snap out his handcuffs for a boy that only came up to my shoulder.
But after nearly nine months of this environment, I’ve become a little jaded myself. Praise be to God for giving me a light in the middle of this darkness. Each of my mornings starts off with a piece of sunshine. Even on the dreariest of days, I have small glimpses of hope and sweetness.
This lovely light comes in the form of a girl with round cheeks that light up when she smiles. She’s playful and kind and anxious to help so much so that she’ll get upset if I don’t let her help in every way.
But just as sweet as she is, she can also be explosive (as many of these kids are) and she can cuss up a storm just as good as any of them. But when the dust settles, she always returns to the lovely young lady that brings me joy in my day.