Thursday, October 9, 2014

Initial Lessons From East 55th

  We had a teacher start at my Cleveland, Ohio inner city middle school this past Monday.  She also quit this past Monday.  She lasted one day, for those of you who are not mathematically inclined.

Her reasons centered around student behavior: It's a tough job, my principal says casually - as he makes a massive understatement punctuated with a smile.

You know when you drive through a tough neighborhood and think, "Man, I'm lost - I'm keeping my doors locked and windows up ... where's the freeway??!!"

That's where my students live.

I love my students (well, most of them ... kids are kids are kids), but they wasted no time in teaching me a few valuable lessons:

1. Respect here is earned, not simply given. At past schools, I could ask for respect the first day - and get it - while the students began to feel me out and decide if they really respected me or not.

Not the case at my middle school: The students view you with suspicion for several days and weeks, while you prove to them 1. you are tough enough to handle them and 2. you aren't going to leave them.

2. Everyone leaves them. These students have bounced from school to school, and relative to relative, and they've often burned through several teachers in one school year.  They crave stability, but expect on some level to be ultimately abandoned.

3. My feelings are irrelevant.  "I feel a class should behave like X, or be capable of Y!"  It's not about my feelings, it's about where the kids are at - because that's where I have to go and meet them.  This isn't an MTV movie; I won't change the institutions so fundamentally entrenched in their neighborhoods and their lives.

My job is to accept the situation to a large degree; and, then to set about touching individual lives.  A mother told me just the other day, "My daughter says you are her favorite teacher - she talks about you all evening long, right up until she goes to bed!"

Those are the special moments that keep me driving from a farm in Medina to East 55th and Broadway every day. I suspect the lessons coming from E 55th are just beginning for me.