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Be Careful What You Ask For

September 20, 2011
Sunny Dawn Summers, aka Scar Face, age 3.

Sunny Dawn Summers, aka Scar Face, age 3. My earliest memory involves getting this scar.

Teaching in New Orleans is never dull. This morning’s literacy block started, as usual, with a “Do Now.” That’s fancy teacher language for the thing you expect the kids to work on when they first sit down in their chairs. I always have a question I pose to the students about problem solving or memories or holidays or something that gets their brains working. Oftentimes, especially in lit block, I use the question to build culture. Basically I try to make them comfortable with each other so they are comfortable learning aloud. Reading levels are often in the grade school levels, even for 15-17 year old 8th graders.

This morning’s question was, “What is your earliest memory.” Fair warning teachers, be careful what you ask for.

One boy remembered swallowing a penny and being fed sweets to pass it. That’s the kind of memory that I was expecting. A penny. Swallowed.

But then the flood gates opened. One girl remembers her brother getting hit and drug down the street by a car. Another girl remembers the first time she met her father, visiting him in jail at the age of 4. She rattled through the list of robberies he committed including a bank, an ATM, 6 restaurants. I lost track. Then she told me that her brother was murdered two days before Katrina hit. Over a girl. Shot in the back of the head multiple times. (Note, this is the second student I have whose brother was murdered over a girl– dating the wrong person’s ex apparently can get you you shot up in New Orleans).

Then, and the absolute highlight of my day, 2 students in my class discovered simultaneously that both of their skinny fathers were in jail at the same time, got out and soon thereafter married big women (according to them, a common plight). They got so excited and started talking so loudly and quickly and with so much fire that my principal unlocked my door and poked his head in only to see me doubled over in laughter at these 2 students who had just found something in common.

People are amazing. We all lead such staggeringly different lives on the same planet in the same city, and now in the same classroom.

And yes, I did share with them. They (almost) always ask. My earliest memory is playing tag with my dad, jumping of the couch to catch him, and landing face first on the corner of the table. I was little, near 3 years old. Funny, things don’t seem that different now, these days in the classroom. I still feel 3 years old, chasing after something I can’t catch, landing face first, shocked, stunned, bewildered.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2011 10:00 pm

    Sunny! This is amazing. So inspired by and proud of you for doing this. I’m sure there are pretty stunning highs and lows every single day. I can’t wait to read more.

  2. September 21, 2011 11:12 am

    sunny, i love your blog and writing. what a bold move to step into teaching, especially post katrina NOLA teaching. thank you for your honesty, and mostly, for your stories.

  3. catherine permalink
    September 21, 2011 7:09 pm

    I loved the post today.

  4. Sue McReynolds (Steve's mom) permalink
    September 24, 2011 4:12 pm

    Sunny – you are truly a wonderful teacher – your students are so lucky! (mind if I steal some of your teaching strategies for staff development at the hospital??)
    Keep up the great work.

  5. January 8, 2012 8:06 pm

    So true…beautiful glimpse into the world of a NOLA educator.
    Keep up the good work- and keep on sharing your stories!


    “…Believe all students can succeed in school and who are prepared to do what it takes to achieve that vision…making a difference.”

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