Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ah, Autumn in the Air

It's as though a huge magnet is pulling me toward Hood Middle School this week. Fortunately, a counterforce known as retirement intervenes and keeps me firmly planted in my recliner. I feel so sorry for those who are showing up for orientation at Hood. They can easily be grouped into two totally disparate sections; the newbies and the oldbies.

The newbies themselves fall into 3 categories: those fresh out of college and ready to embark on their new teaching career; those who have some teaching experience and perhaps have moved here from, say, Kansas; and those who became dissatisfied with corporate America and are trying teaching as a way to get fulfillment. Regardless of which 3 one might fall in, I feel immense sorrow for what is about to happen to them.

I'm not a pessimist or a doom-and-gloom guy. I am a realist. To suddenly land in an urban middle school with high hopes and dreams is akin to Russian roulette. Ten days deep into this school year, those new to Hood Middle School will find themselves aghast at the avalanche of paperwork, amazed by the total lack of respect they receive from roughly half of the students, and astounded by the realization that the teacher is the lowest form of life in the urban ed gene pool.

By the end of the year, they will be beaten down physically and emotionally, wondering why in the world did they trust their idealistic instincts. So sad. And it explains why we no longer get the best and brightest as teachers. One of the most disturbing phenomena I witnessed in my final teaching years was the influx of teachers who weren't very smart and tended to be misfits. Another problem was hirees from west African nations...bless their hearts, they don't speak English well enough to be understood. Pity the poor students these days.

Oh, yeah. That other group of teachers...the oldies. I used to be one. Those are the ones who are pretty much locked in - they're there because they have no recourse. They are beaten down as well, but hang around because there are no better options in their lives. They wish they were somewhere else, and because of that, their teaching is substandard...many times, disturbingly substandard.

By now, I know you're convinced that I'm a bitter old man. Honestly, I'm not. But I have witnessed what I've described over and over again. In many cases, those who've been chewed up and spit out at Hood are wonderful, lovely people. But those qualities don't often work in the classroom anymore. In order for me to survive all those years, I almost had to adopt a different personna. I had to be tougher, more assertive and aggressive than my usual nature...all the while not compromising my Christian faith. In the end, I retired sooner than I wanted to. In the end, the environment won out, eroding my will to stay even though I was at the very top of the DISD pay scale.

Is there a place in America for someone who wants to teach? A place where they can truly teach and feel fulfilled at the end of the day? Sure! I've dropped in on the middle school down the farm-to-market road from us. No one is wandering the halls looking for trouble. When I peer into the classrooms, I see teachers teaching and students learning. No distractions, no danger. So I assume that if one moves away from the urban areas, situations like this can be found all over America. And, of course, there is the private school option. The only such operation with which I'm intimately familiar is Dallas Christian. I can truthfully say that the only singular way DC was like Hood is that both could be referred to as "schools". My three kiddos used their DC educations as a springboard to successful college careers and ultimately successful professional careers.

So now I'm mostly detached from the Hood environment, connected only by the fact that I drive a school bus there. I let the students off the bus and joyfully drive back to the bus lot, leaving the challenges of urban education to those who aren't as fortunate as I. God bless them.

1 comment:

Brooke said...

You probably heard of Ron Clark. He is the guy that came up with the 55 rules. He spoke to our district Thursday. I am amazed by this guy. He was kind of thrown into teaching. He felt called to go teach at a school in Harlem. This guy is a tall, lanky, white (99.9% sure he's gay too) guy. He took the lowest of the lows class in the worst area in the nation and made those kids into fine young men and women. He took them in as fifth graders and they all graduated high school and are on their way to college. I know my situation is not Harlem nor Hood, but he really encouraged me to be a teacher that makes a difference. I know that I have tried in years past, but I really want to make these last few months count!