I hate teaching. I haven’t always, but now I do. I really hate teaching.
Let me start with Ms. Willis. She was my first grade teacher. One of the most detailed memories of my life is the Halloween I had her as a teacher. That year I was a “bride”, white gown, veil and all. (Except no dress shoes, I believe I opted for my My Little Pony light up tennis shoes instead). And as we and the kindergarteners Marched together throughout the older classes to exhibit our absolute adorableness to them, I kept my eyes on Ms. Willis. There I was, some stereotypical woman, or woman-in-training and there she was, dressed as a soldier, with football player lines under her eyes. She marched us through as though we were her troop and more than anything I wanted to shed my weak flimsy dress and don a military outfit just like her.
This was one of many things she did that earned my reverence. She was an overall powerhouse and quite the beauty. My parents loved her, and that was just the icing on the cake. Later I’d have just as fabulous teachers who more or less shaped the better parts of me. What we all mean by that is, well, those are the faces I see when I fuck up, and I mean really fuck up, because they trained me, like parents, to do and be so much better. My third grade teacher, whose name escapes me, is the lady single handedly responsible for my love of books. She read us James and the Giant Peach, A Wrinkle in Time and some book about a boy who got blind from a firecracker I have ever since been trying to locate. Before her I had been known to read more than average, but she made me the bookworm that I am today. In fourth grade, Ms. Mitchell-Smith used vocabulary I’d never known. Omit, in lieu, and she sounded so eloquent. Later when I was learning about the Queen of Sheba, I pictured her as Ms. Mitchell-Smith. Graceful, regal. There were some other greats, but there is always a man isn’t there? And mine was Mr. Hanness. He was the first teacher I ever had that told me I was a good writer. I even have the paper still, and whenever I am in doubt I go back to his untidy scrawl “You’re a good writer M.” so simple, and he may not even have thought twice about it, but as he was the sponsor to our poetry club, and my English teacher he earned a place in my heart that no one, not love of my life or father can take. He introduced me to Toni Morrison for petes sake. He taught me diction, how to address an audience, mood, tone, and he made me want to find greater literature on the shelves and in my head.
This is what I wanted to do for other future readers and writers.
This is not what I am allowed to do. But neither is it what I am able to do.
Due to drilling the kids to prepare them for standardized tests – which I may say I don’t believe are ENTIRELY bad – we have made our kids hate reading. And when I say our kids, I mean lower and lower middle class urban minorities.
I shove literature down their throats that they neither comprehend nor care for and I ask them general questions.
But it isn’t just the system. It’s the kids. Or the kids that I am exposed to recently. And more often than not, their parents. No not the entire student body, but yes, the vast majority are selfish, happily ignorant and shallow. They make me feel… hopeless, frustrated.
Why? (And prepare for slightly selfish, completely passionate emotionally driven banter)
They don’t care about anything of any substance. Most of my kids don’t want to go to college, and the ones who do realize it the last grading period of their senior year, only because they only no realize that, well, life would suck without them going to college. And no I don’t belive college is for everyone, but for kids from low socio-economic status’ it’s not likely they are going to find many other ways of getting themselves out of the rut their parents or grandparents have them in still.
They lie, cheat, steal and have such low morale I feel as if I am trying to save the sinking titanic by scooping a bucket of water at a time.
I have an absolutely gifted young man. He scores in the 98th percentile with only the slightest effort. And what does he want to do? Rap and sell drugs. Actually, I believe he may already be selling drugs. He speaks like an uneducated hooligan though I know his household didn’t make him that way and he behaves like a buffoon. Literally skips classes, steals from teachers runs up and down the hallway playing tag or some version of it and can quote Lil Wayne like Sanctified southerners can the bible.
I have had so many talks with him about being a better person, being more driven. Every teacher he’s had this and last year has done the same. To absolutely no avail.
These kids, my students, think “Survival of the fittest” is a slogan for Young Money Records. No matter how many times I correct them. When I explain that Lil Wayne was wrong, dead ass wrong, for using Emmitt Till’s beaten face as a simile for female’s genitals in his bed, they laugh at me. They see nothing wrong with it. And it hurts.
Not my feelings, not personally anyway. But it hurts to see what this generation is going through. The “system” so to speak, is draining culture from them, and instead of fighting back, raising hell to have a drama teacher, a band, instruments, cultural clubs they allow the media and their own perpetual ignorance to keep them oppressed. And I say this freely as a daughter of a man from this very neighborhood. From a poor single parent black household to a business degree from the University of Miami. He made it. They can.
I became a teacher for two reasons, I love literature, I want to see a better future for urban minorities than it seems they are destined for.
I’m trying to make distinguished gentlemen and lovely ladies out of bad bitches and real niggas.
But I see them for three hours a week. I’m not a pessimist people, I’m being a realist. These kids, these urban minorities don’t realize that they can’t afford to fall behind educationally. They don’t see that they are capable of so much. When I hold a mirror to their faces so they can see their beautiful potential, the ask why I’m blocking the television – Love and Hip-Hop is on.
So, what is the point of me attempting to teach them Shakespeare when they only get excited when someone says ‘Ho’? Why read Toni Morrisson with them when they get angry with a character saving a girl from a gang rape? He ain’t bout that they tell me.
Somewhere their ancestors are weeping. African, Mexican, Spainard, doesn’t matter.
But alas, I will continue to fight the good fight. For a while at least. At the very base of it all I am a book worm. A literature lover. I can only take so much fighting.