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Rotten Apple Seeking Sunshine

March 7, 2012
jesse and sunny climb stairs to the audley house

My brother Jesse and I climb the stairs to Grandma and Grandpa Audley’s house. My grandpa Joe always pushed us to learn – state capitals, multiplication tables, Indian poker. We were served a double helping of future every day. I credit Grandpa Audley for my being successful in college and still feel his influence whenever I push myself to do more and better.

We had a career day today and for the most part, my kids were assholes. I was embarrassed by them, for them and for me.

The Crimestoppers PR lady battled several kids snorting snitch from the back row, and then giggling about it.

The architect fielded questions like, “Do they have pretty girls that work there?” from my most high strung and emotionally charged 16-year-old. He also got head shakes when he said he majored in math. “Oh no. That’s too much. I’m not doing that. I’m not doing math.”

The woman from Tulane who shared her childhood demographic (poor, urban, black) in order to garner respect got tuned out because they thought she was preaching to them. They think they get enough preaching from me. “Stay in school. Keep your eye on the prize. Working hard now will pay off later,” is a mantra they’ve been tuning out from me for many months. Coming from her, it was just another voice falling on deaf ears.

The interesting thing though, was when this particular woman asked them to introduce themselves and say what they wanted to be when they grow up. She started with the first student who was clearly stoned. He would barely whisper his name.

“No. Wait a minute. When you say your name, you say it proudly. You look me in the eye, and say your name.”

Again he whispers, barely audible.

“No. Come on. Be proud of who you are.”

He can’t get louder.

“When you’re on the street corner hollering at your friends, you don’t whisper. Come on. Loudly. Proudly.”

Again, hardly audible. Another student speaks up in his defense. “He don’t get no louder.”

She moves on and each student looks down when saying his or her name. Some go so far as to cover their faces, or mumble. I was so sad for them. In middle school? Yes. Almost adults? Yes. Still small children in many ways? Absolutely. All of them were like this, save one– my best student, most focused and driven, who will be an amazing force in her adulthood (who also got in a fist fight yesterday in the hallway).

This morning I saw my students again for the first time as little children who participate in life as adults in many behaviors, but lost and confused and a little sad. They get defensive and angry when we talk about the future, and they all deny the past: it was the teacher’s fault they flunked, and mistaken identify the reason they’re in jail. Nothing is their fault, they claim. And in a way they’re right. Parents, teachers, the community. What have we given them break the cycle?

Some days it feels impossible. Do we focus on talking about a career when they can barely read? There is no road long enough to bridge that gap. When asked about what she learned during career day, this was written eloquently from an only child who lives in the projects with her mom: “I really did not understand what they was talking about. I want to be a mom with one child with a house and a car and a job.” Our apples are mid-fall, and sunshine can’t reach the branches.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2012 7:38 pm

    i overheard a girl at the gym talking to her friend about teachers…”they don’t even work! they have AT LEAST one day off a week. all these in-services days…. and then summers off!…” my blood was boiling. i think reading your blog (or trying to be a teacher for a day!) should be mandatory!

  2. March 8, 2012 9:30 am

    I am not a teacher; but had some truly great ones. I was in a Home Depot one day about a year ago and saw a teacher buying paint for her classroom – paying for it out of her own pocket – so that her classroom would look less like the hovel I’m sure it was.

    You are appreciated and I so, so wish you all got the absolute respect that you deserve.

  3. moonmaid permalink
    March 9, 2012 12:55 pm

    Don’t think they didn’t get something out of it, despite their bad behavior. We had alumni from our high school come and talk to our advisory students in small groups. The guy we ended up with was a campus cop who had been a football player. They were polite, but seemed indifferent. He said things I’m sure they’ve heard a zillion times – don’t get in trouble, don’t do drugs, don’t get arrested, blah blah. The next day I had my problem child in one-on-one for our post high school planning work. He surprised me by telling me that he was interested in law enforcement and thought the cop alumni was “cool.” This is a kid who has been in and out of trouble since age 12 – chronic truancy and arrest problems.

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