Scholarships to the Pen
I finished boxing and packing the last pieces of my teaching gear while lunch swung into full action. It took forever because so many students and teachers came to say goodbye. I was shocked at the number of colleagues. My reputation within the peer community was liked or indifferent due to my actions over the years. The spat with Mrs. Johnson was kept secret but there were others. As I walked toward the car, I thought about them and their effect on my teaching perspectives.
Early in my career, I was harassed by a female teacher for dates. I considered it flattery that any woman would ask me out, but when the requests continue despite my objections, I needed help. I went to my principal first; she found it hilarious and felt I exaggerated. It became serious when the female teacher decided to give a detailed account of the dream she had about me in front of colleagues. I was absolutely embarrassed and furious. Reporting her to school administration seemed like overkill, students were bringing me written messages and cooked gifts from her; I was out of options. I solved it by going to a female colleague and having her accompany me to administration. There was no official report, nothing went on files and I avoided feeling like a snitch. For that reason, I was ultra cognizant of the attention that boys gave girls. It was years before I admitted to anyone that it was sexual harassment and I made a concentrated effort to prevent boys from harassing girls for anything. My entire life was full of fuck-ups, almost fucked-ups and bout to fuck-ups. My involvement with W’Kendrick and the crew almost cost my freedom and I promised myself and them that I would make sure nobody, like us, fell through my cracks, at any school. As a teacher, I always tried to implement my personal experiences into the school environment, regardless of classroom, subject, grade. I always felt my experience was valuable.
I reached the car and immediately felt comforted by the screwed and chopped rendition of Ready For The World’s, All I Do Is Think Of You. Music played an integral role in my classroom management. I used the Knowledge Kash to entice, encourage and reward student participation; students used the Knowledge Kash to play music anytime I wasn’t teaching so group work, individual work, tests, quizzes, cheat sheet development, project presentation were all done with music. To keep the music playing, students controlled and checked each other’s behavior because if their noise level was louder than the music, I turned off the music, no refunds. As a general class, we all learned from each other’s music selection. It often led to personal testimonies and stories that brought students together; especially with students from warring neighborhoods. I laughed to myself thinking of all the different times students from different cultural backgrounds would research the screwed and chopped versions of their own music and share with the class.
I arrived at the Detention Center and went through the standard check in process, ID, metal detector and greeted a school officer, Officer Whitaker. She was young, small with long hair and always spoke quickly with a strong Spanish accent. “Oh snap!” she smiled. “I thought you were sick and retired? What’s good Knoah?”
“I am. Today is my last day and I have a few kids that I promised to see before I left for good.” We dapped, bumped fists, clasped hands, hugged and finished it all off with a snap of the fingers. “I see you’ve gotten better with the Homie Shake.” I said.
“Bllllshhhh” she said and sighed. “I had to with YOUR kids here. They are always on me about it and hold me to it everytime we start.” She laughed and sighed again. “Yo, it’s crazy but you were right about the trickle down effect. I do this with your kids and it slowly starts building trust with other kids. They feel like I’m trying to know them and that’s always good stuff. We’re gonna miss you around here for sure bro.”
I liked Officer Whitaker and had high hopes for her. For years, I made personal visits to the Detention Center to see my students who were placed in Alternative School. After the incident with the student and gun, I made a concentrated effort to establish a rapport with every kid in my class. It didn’t matter what they did, what we had in common and didn’t always work but I tried. Officer Whitaker was already ready to escort me through the Detention Center and pull kids out of class for group sessions. Usually; the students and I played dominos, “Any of mine here I asked?”
“Who am I looking up?” she asked and stopped. “Wait, you came here to see him?” Her voice was thick with skepticism.
“Is he the only one here?” I asked in disbelief. I was fully expecting at least four students of mine at the Detention Center.
Officer Whitaker checked her computer screen again. “Well…” She tapped a few strokes of her keyboard and squinted at the screen, “Nevermind, he’s gone too. Ok. Yup, you have three kids here, Bobby, Brandon and Nuke. Bobby and Brandon are absent, skipping, something but not here. Nuke is gone gone.”
Hearing the names, I wasn’t shocked at all. Each of her descriptions of the three boys sounded perfect. “What did Nuke do?” Nuke was a student that I struggled with. He was a late addition to my class and only lasted three weeks before being placed at the Detention Center. His “crime”? He sexually harassed several students and teachers and became infatuated with my own niece. He followed my neice around school making inappropriate comments and threatened to follow her home. At one point, he asked me, “What would you do if you found me, in your daughter’s room, at night and we were about to fuck?” That was it for me. I joined several teachers in the threat to sue the school if he wasn’t removed from campus. I did not have kids but the threat was too real, sincere and beyond the scope of anything I’d prepared for. In Houston, I’d teachers assaulted by students, their cars stolen and not sexual threats. Nuk needed help that my campus couldn’t provide, offer or even help with. His mom, a local prostitute of the highest fashions, rarely attended any school meetings over her son’s behavior.
Officer Whitaker looked around; checking for hidden listeners of our conversation, “He grabbed my ass with two hands.” She kept a straight face and watched for my reaction.
“Whoa. You have a gun and he still made a play?” I whistled, “Well, can’t say I’m surprised at all. Nuke has issues and needs serious help. I gave him my scholarship to penitentiary talk, compared the prison system to Detention Centers, how it’s preparing him to be institutionalized and even used his favorite song to explain what it meant. He… Man, Nuke is just a different breed of human.”
“Isn’t that why they pay you the BIG bucks? And didn’t you win Teacher of the Year for working with kids like Nuke?” she asked.
I thought before I answered, “Students decide who they’ll work with, not teachers, schools, or administration. A kid connects with whoever he or she thinks cares about them and from there…” I shrugged my shoulders.
“Hmmmm; so according to Mr. Gotta-Save-Them-All, the secret to teaching is connecting with your students. Just like that huh?” she smiled.
“Nope, not at all. The secret to making a difference in a kid’s life is connecting with them.” I said. “Teaching them is all about building lesson plans and shit.” I burst out laughing at my own inside joke. It was a perspective that I built over my career in education as a tutor, teacher, mentor, parent, student and leader. Teaching and making a difference were not the same thing, not even close. I was great at building relationships and making a difference because students, parent and others informed me. I was terrible at the procedural requirements of teaching, lesson plans, writing the best test questions and analyzing test data. To be honest, I hated that element of teaching but knew that was essentially the job, procedural requirements over and over.
Now; she thought before responding, “Aight. I’ll give that one to you. So, are you saying that making a difference and teaching are exclusive? Teachers have to choose between making a difference and you know, actually teaching?”
“Yeah right, I refuse to fall into that trap.” I smiled. I’ve never found the right combination of words to accurately describe what I was trying to say. It has gotten me into trouble with colleagues throughout my years in education. “What I’m saying is this, plain and simple,” I paused, still searching for the correct words to finish the thought. I’ve never found the right combination. “Every teacher knows if they’re making difference or just hoping to write lesson plans.”
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