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Speeding Slowly

March 19, 2012
new orleans education

This is what 18 looks like in my mind. This is my pops many years ago, posing in his cap and gown with his sweet ride. Eighteen in my 8th grade classroom in New Orleans looks like a head down, pot-hangover.

My entire job as a writing teacher in New Orleans culminates tomorrow when we start Phase 1 of the LEAP test, the standardized test that determines if our kids are fit to move forward to 9th grade, or must spend one more year as an 8th grader.

I spent the day trying to pump them up, asking them to reflect back on the year and think about evidence of academic growth. Then we looked at Benchmark essays and came away with 3 thing to concentrate on for tomorrow’s writing session. I apologized in advance for not being able to help them or feed them pretzels while they test. A response from one of my boys who was currently snacking on them: “Thank you, Lord, for inventing pretzels.”

Before the pretzel talk, before class, my students were filling me in on the weekend’s activities. One girl told me 6 people got killed by her house this weekend, that she could smell the gun smoke long after the shots were fired. “You need me to go to the store? No, baby. I go to school and then home and inside and that’s it, baby. You need something? No, baby. I ain’t getting shot. No, baby.”

Another group of students were talking about a party they all planned to go to Saturday but knew someone was going to get shot there, so some didn’t go. One boy tells me, “That’s why I didn’t go there. I didn’t have my banger.” Someone did get shot. Died. Just a regular Saturday.

I sat down by one of my students today who could not keep his head up. He’s a big stoner, and he had stoner-hangover face so badly. I asked him what was up, why he was struggling to keep his eyes open so badly. We whispered this conversation in the back of the room as my co-teacher wrangled answers from the front 4 students.

“My birthday yesterday.”

“Oh, yeah! You turned 18, right?”

“Yeah. I told you that.”

“Yes, I remember. What’s your plan? What are you going to do now that you’re 18?”

“I don’t know. I guess get a job. Have a good life? Learn to drive? I don’t know.”

I talk with him about how education helps you have a better life, but secretly wonder how you see the world if you turn 18 in 8th grade. He’s not the only student I have who is 18.

After school today I gave myself a long look in the bathroom mirror as I washed my hands. I tried to see myself at 18, to remember how I was with teenage problems, teenage angst, teenage style. I feel so young now. And my kids feel so old. They’re little warriors, aging into adulthood, speeding slowly past me.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 22, 2012 10:04 pm

    I remember you at 18 – like yesterday- and like today you were a beauty – both inside and out. What you give on a daily basis is more than most give in a life time. I love you!

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