Thursday, December 10, 2009


Today was a hard day. Hard days are when I leave thinking, trying to figure it out.

A former student visited school today. This former student happened to be former class president, with a 93% GPA, in charge of multiple clubs. She pretty much ran the school. Accepted to Dartmouth on need-based scholarships. She came to answer questions about college and the application process.

My 5th period class has some pretty strong students. They had good, insightful questions. And then this is how it got hard. I asked about the reading level. She told them how she had to read 10 books in 8 weeks. I asked if Dartmouth has remedial English. She said they don't call it that, but that all freshman have to take a writing course. She said she started out in Writing 2/3, which was a high level class, and after one paper, her professor asked if English was her second language (it is not). Now she's taking Writing 5/6 (lower level) her second semester. (At this point I asked her to share her high school GPA and all my students freaked out, most likely seeing their futures in remedial English. I quickly pointed out this girl never had me for a teacher, and they should listen to what I tell them when I talk about college essay writing.)

And this is when it got ugly. One boy started sucking his teeth. I don't remember exactly why. He didn't believe something she said, or she swore by accident and he doesn't approve of swearing. Here's back story about this boy: he's very smart, he wants to be a math teacher. He loves math, he doesn't love English. I am the first English teacher whom he cannot pass simply by being polite. You cannot pass my class without reading the novels, and he does not like reading. He has failed twice. He has started to take a gangster, too-cool-for-school attitude in my class. And today it boiled over. The former student and the current student got into it. She said she didn't go here anymore and didn't have to be nice. She was tired of these attitudes like the one she saw in front of her. She was tired of reading about who people had to fight on facebook and the street attitude. She saw at Dartmouth, that for every 10 African-American female students, there was one African-American male students. She wished people got it.

I had to send the current student out of the room. She left shortly after. She was visiting other classrooms. When she left, we continued the conversation. We talked about the culture of the school, and how students don't have the right attitude towards work. Some students shared their anger and frustration with school. Some students cried. We talked about how to get the most out of school and the opportunities it does provide.

I don't really know. I don't know what to say to the boy tomorrow. Nothing I have said to him before has worked, clearly. All the evidence regarding inner-city students and college is so depressing. I try to push them so hard, but will I do a good enough job? Will they flunk out? Get so overwhelmed that they drop out? Even make it to high school graduation?

Today was a hard day.

1 comment:

  1. If anyone can inspire them to do it, it's you. Just the high expectations you hold and the no bullshit attitude is enough to at least catapult them in to the awareness that they deserve that opportunity... and potentially give them the skills to achieve it.

    Hard day, yes, but it also sort of sounds like an incredible day.