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"...the voice in my head says only one thing: 'Hug her. Hug her. Hug her.' But instead I suspend her for a week."
My 25-year-old daughter has always wanted to be a teacher. Her dream was to teach high school English; she's been working on lesson plans since she was 16. This year, her dream came true when she was accepted into the Mississippi Teacher Corps, and she's now at a rural school teaching the kids that many of us have forgotten or don't even know exist.
"His mom went to jail this morning. He doesn’t have a place to go home after school is out. He only owns one jacket and it’s getting colder."
The Corps encourages teachers to blog, as long as their school and students remain unidentified. Come below the wingding for true stories from this lost corner of America.

I am posting this for my daughter, who blogs at The 27th Teacher. Her students' privacy must be protected, but I felt these stories were too powerful to not have a wider audience. When we talk about teachers' unions or education "reform," sometimes we forget that these are people, one at a time trying to make the world a better place against incredible obstacles.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2012

7 Stories

1. October 12

I hear the sound of gravel spreading across pavement and I see kids run past my door in a blur. I look up to the doorway and see more bodies run past it. The bell rang a few minutes ago and the parking lot is teeming with gabbing teenagers and humming car engines. But again there is a noise not familiar to these afternoons- gravel rolling across pavement, the thick thud of something soft hitting the ground, and screaming.

I walk slowly to my door and shut it, and then slowly to my window and peer out. I am not one that is eager to see a fight, so I move carefully. I pray in my own head that it is not one of my students, but as I do I catch my breath in my throat as I see a junior-a girl full of attitude, insults, and promise- from my 8th period pushed onto the ground and her hair pulled violently at the back of her head, bending her neck like a swan's. There is another girl above her, yelling incoherently, her voice scratchy and raw with malice.

Two male teachers rush the scene, prying the two girls apart, all 4 of them falling down in the process. My student pulls out the fray, and rushes inside with a her 3 friends trailing behind her. The other girl is being tackled again and again by the teachers, and I see that she is not from our school. There is a blue truck beside her with an older man in the drivers' seat, but I'm running after my girls who are sprinting down the hallway in tears.

I walk fast to keep up with them, but keep my distance. These four girls that I feel so protective of hate me more than any other students I teach. The girl who is the farthest ahead of us- the one who is sobbing and whose braids are pulled out of her scalp and whose eye is blooming with bruise- by far hates me the most. She yells out in class often how incompetent, cruel, and useless I am. She is written up often. She is a constant struggle. And any teacher will tell you, these are often the students you love the most.

Now she's screaming and crying in the copy room. Her arm is bleeding from hitting the payment and all I want to do- what overcomes me with how badly I want to- is hug her. But I hold back and stand with my arms crossed, looking disappointed and mad, because that is my role. You have had a fight on school property and you will face consequences.

As she flails her arms in the air and screams profanity and threatens to hurt the girl again and she's panicked and crying and louder and louder, the voice in my head says only one thing: "Hug her. Hug her. Hug her."

But instead I suspend her for a week.

2. October 15

He’s miserable. His jacket is pulled up over his head, covering his face from the class. He refuses to read. He refuses to work. I call his name, he yells profanities from under his clothing. He is distracting the entire class and I can not move forward in the lesson because now he is up, running around the room, and I’m trying to get him to calm down and I’m ready to call the office and before I can he’s slamming the door behind him and running out of the building.

His mom went to jail this morning. He doesn’t have a place to go home after school is out. He only owns one jacket and it’s getting colder. He’s running across the parking lot.

It’s 3:20 and he’s back at my door. He has his essay in his hands, which are dirty and smell like cigarettes and something else. He says he’s sorry. He gives me his essay and asks if I’ll deduct points. I tell him no, it’s still on time, but he got a zero for participation in class. He says he understands. He pulls his jacket sleeves over his fingertips and turns and walks away.

His thesis statement reads, “Faulkner reveals the theme of silent struggle through Hightower’s lack of dialogue, his wife’s secret life, and Hightower’s own obsession with a galloping horse from a long-lost war. Or is the war lost at all?”

I close my door and cry.

3. October 18

I am walking to the front of the class as I instruct NuNu to read the directions on the board. She reads them and stops in the middle and says sourly, "Mane, Ms. T, we don't undastand this story. You need to teach this better! This don't make no sense. We can't take dis quiz."

"Oh you most certainly can. And you need to start now."

She and the other girls in her group sigh loudly, grumble to themselves, and scratch violently at their quizzes with their dull pencils. We have spent 4 days going through Beowulf passage by passage, identifying literary devices, summarizing each section, writing paragraphs and watching movie clips and completing character charts. This is their first quiz.

Nunu writes "You didn't teach this!" in big letters on her quiz. She draws a smiley face next to her name. She hands in her quiz.

We begin the next section of Beowulf, reading through each section in turn, summarizing when we finish, discussing the implications and predicting what will happen next. They take notes. They write
definitions. They circle kennings.

Nunu does her math homework.

"Nunu, do not complain to me that you do not understand this material when you come into my classroom and blatantly ignore what we cover. Put your math homework away and pay attention. Now."

"Why you such a bitch?"

I call the principal's office.

4. October 19

DeeDee walks into my classroom and proceeds to drop his pants down to his basketball shorts, throw his hands in the air, put his sunglasses on, and starts to sing "Bands Make Her Dance."

I walk into the classroom and stare him down. He stops.

"What are you doing DeeDee?" I say in the way he knows exactly the answer I’m looking for.

He looks down at his shoes and his khaki shorts down around his ankles, "Being creepy and weird" he replies solemnly, “Sorry.”

"That's right," I tell him.

He goes to his desk and sits down. I laugh.

5. October 22

I finish my presentation for the parent meeting on test scores and our Unit Tests and final projects. Two other teachers go after me, and a 10th grade girl reads a poem she wrote. Our principal is standing to the side, smiling and holding her hands clasped in front of her on a manila folder.

She has only been here two months, only two days longer than myself. She started two days before school started. It’s been tough with a new principal, but things are finally starting to get into a routine. These kids need consistency and leadership they can trust. Even if they don’t like her, as long as she sticks around and continues her follow-through, I think the year can only get better.

The parent meeting ends like every other parent meeting ever has. The principal is at the front of the room, thanking everyone for coming. She asks if there are any more questions. Then she pauses.

“Thank you all for coming and supporting us and your children here at our school. I just.....I want to tell you all that tonight is my last night working at this school. I am far from home and I am ready to move on. Take care of our kids here, teachers. You are all amazing. Thank you.”

She walks out of the room.

Shit.

6. October 24

Three of them are out of their seats. Two are on their cell phones. One is at the back of the room, with another one in his hands, rearing his hands back ready to land a fist onto the other’s cheek. One is at my desk sharpening a pencil. Five are in their desks quietly writing their definitions. Four are crowded in my doorway, screaming indeterminately at the two at the back. Three are absent. Two are sitting on my couch at the front of the class holding hands.

We have no principal. There is no way to call the office. There is no discipline procedure and there is no office to send any of the students to.
I close my door. I flick the lights. One is in a choke hold. I yell at the back of the room. The fragile, quiet Inclusion teacher wilts away from the scene, her blonde hair glinting past me. I grab the one with the other in the choke hold. He throws his backpack across the room. I yell at the two on the couch to move to their seats. I tell the one in my hands to sit at the front of the room, in my own chair. I tell the other, now rubbing at his collarbone, to sit at the back of the room, in my chair at my desk. I yell to the four in my doorway to find their desks. I set my timer for the 3 minutes they have to finish writing their definition. I tell one more to take his paper and sit down before I kick him out of my classroom.

Three are absent. 19 are in their desks quietly writing their definitions.

7. October 25

There is a knock on my door. It has been a very long, very hard day. Three students were removed from my 2nd period class. I had a parent conference during my planning period. My lessons aren’t finished and my test is not right and my room is a mess and I am so behind on grading it makes my head ache.

I open my door to the quietest girl that I teach. Her bone-straight hair falls around her face the way she wears it every day. Her features are subtle and sweet, and she smiles at me and I motion for her to come in.

“I know we don’t have enough Ms. T,” she begins, “But I was wondering if I could check out one of the books to read tonight?” She’s talking about Of Mice and Men, her eyes darting to the stack of books on my table by the door.

“Well, you can, but we’re going to finish it tomorrow. You don’t want to read it with the rest of us?”

“I’m afraid something bad is gonna happen to Lennie,” she says, like it’s a real person she knows and is worried for, “and if something happens to him I really want to read it at home. I don’t want to get sad in class.” She won’t make eye contact with me.

“Well, write down the number you take here, and tell me I can trust you to bring it back to me tomorrow.” She writes her name and the book number on a post-it that I put in my gradebook. “I expect it back first thing in the morning,” I tell her, and close my book.

“Thanks for letting me borrow it, Ms. T,” she says, as she hoists her heavy backpack higher onto her shoulder and turns to go, “I really like the story. I like the way Steinbeck writes, with lots of talking and the guys seem like real people. Thanks for picking this book.”

I smile and tell her, “You’re welcome."

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (16+ / 0-)

    "Maybe life's meaning is not so much found, as it is made." Opus, by Berke Breathed

    by Lisa in Bama on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 07:31:56 PM PDT

  •  God Bless Her for all her work (5+ / 0-)

    I wouldn't have the confidence to do it every day non-stop. What plagues these children goes a lot further than simple defiance. Chronic Poverty, unemployment, broken families, all of it leads to these problems that may never be solved. And the only ones who profit are our private prison corporations.

    Tell her that I am thinking of her, and I hope that she reaches these children, and make them understand how much she cares for them.

  •  As someone who went through MTC and (8+ / 0-)

    still teaches in the MS Delta, let me say this - monitor and check in with your daughter.  These are extremely demanding placements, and the emotional, psychological, and physical demands of the job leads often to mental health problems or substance abuse (or both).  

    In terms of instruction, she probably doesn't know what she is doing as a first year teacher.  The learning curve is very steep that first year.  The summer program (I can't say too much here and maintain my anonymity) isn't a very good way to prepare MTCers for their real schools.  The summer school students are too well behaved, the administrators are competent, and Holly Springs is a success story (190 QDI), unlike the school and district she has likely been placed in.

    If she is deep in the Delta (Hollandale, North Panola, etc.) then try to get her to open up and talk about the things that are frustrating her.  Holding all of it in is not good.

    The goal for the first year is really just to survive.  

    Remind her that she is not under contract to save any of these students or the district.  She can and should say No to any unreasonable demands by her principal or conservator (or super, if there is one).

    Let her know that it gets better the second year.   She is in the "grind" part of that first year right now - the adrenaline from the "new school year" is long gone and the next break is not for a month.  With grading, LPing, game duty, prof. development and after school tutoring, plus MTC Saturday courses, she is likely putting in 100 or more hours of work a week.  Stay in touch with her.

    "The attack on the truth by war begins long before war starts and continues long after a war ends." -Julian Assange

    by Pierro Sraffa on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 07:50:35 PM PDT

    •  Thank you for your insight. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blue91, jan4insight, BlackSheep1

      I sent her the link to this diary so she can see what people say. It's been extraordinarily stressful, but she is also a very strong person with some experiences that fit into the category of "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." We are supportive and in close contact, but I think the input of people who've been through it, like you, is really important.

      "Maybe life's meaning is not so much found, as it is made." Opus, by Berke Breathed

      by Lisa in Bama on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 07:57:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jan4insight, BlackSheep1

    for your diary...a very poignant glimpse of the everyday life of a teacher, whether in rural Alabama or urban Texas where I've worked for 45 years.

    It does get easier but before it does too many leave, giving up and getting out.  It doesn't seem to get easier for the kids, though. It's still as tough growing up now as it was when I began with my first class many, many years ago.

    Good luck to your daughter.

    I am a 67 year old teacher...teaching computer applications in a Texas high school. I've already retired once but it didn't take.

    by 43yearsateacher on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 08:04:07 PM PDT

  •  This: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, BlackSheep1, Melanie in IA
    My lessons aren’t finished and my test is not right and my room is a mess and I am so behind on grading it makes my head ache.
    has been the story of my life for the past few weeks (years, really, but weeks are more visceral).

    Lisa in Bama, please ask your daughter to sign up and blog here at DKos, too.  She's a spectacular writer, and I'm absolutely certain that her talents will be recognized by the community and by those who point the Spotlight.  There are a lot of us teachers here - and we're always psyched to greet a new colleague into our midst.

  •  Please let your daughter know (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlackSheep1, Melanie in IA

    that she can repost these same stories under her own name. Looking forward to more crossposting from her blog!

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

    by ybruti on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 11:19:32 PM PDT

  •  Sending this to my teacher daughter. (0+ / 0-)

    She's in her first year teaching seventh grade science and reading in Colorado. She will really like this, thank you.

    I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you and me.

    by plankbob on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 02:01:20 AM PDT

  •  Thank you. (0+ / 0-)

    I'm forwarding the link to my future daughter-in-law, teaching 4th graders in the Delta this year. She may be too busy to read it...

    Excellent writing. I join with the others in encouraging your daughter to post here.

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