MY EXPERIENCE (Part 1)
Ten years ago I entered a field that quickly became my world – teaching.
I began as a teacher of regular education at the elementary level in a large city. The school had already been thrown to the side (and was closed a few years later) due to not meeting
the expectations put in place by others. People thought I was crazy for teaching there, but I
loved it (perhaps not during every minute, but I loved it nonetheless). There were no supplies, bathrooms were kept locked, unwelcomed guests continuously found their way into the building, violence occurred on a daily basis, teacher-bought materials were vandalized the moment they were displayed, and each day you entered the front doors dreading, “what will happen today?” And I loved it. Sounds like I might be crazy, but tickle my fancy and let me explain.
– The kids were dynamic. I’ve been in several school environments over the years, but the students (I lovingly always refer to them as “my kids” so excuse the switching between terms) at this school were unlike any other! They were full of life. I had the nerds, the shy ones, the singers, the NBA stars, the rappers, the dealers, the beauty queens, the drama queens, the corner store regulars, the sleepers…I had them all. But what was special was that no matter what personality the child had, they lived it 100%. Their personality ran through their veins. There was no questioning what inspired each individual child. As a teacher, that helped in linking “boring” content to the interests of the students.
– Creatively planned lessons. Since administration outside of the building had pretty much written off our school, we were not kept to high standards. We had one principal who tried, but it was like fighting a losing battle from day one. This lack of monitoring allowed me the freedom to teach whatever I wanted to teach. I was never big into typing out every sentence I’m going to say on my lesson plans, but I was willing to spend hours in planning to develop projects that inspired students. We participated in singing/rapping projects around our study of Les Misérables, student-led science fair projects, acting out scenes from The Phantom of the Opera, oral reports with signature meals from countries around the world, written reports on famous African-Americans, designing games around historical events, creating recipes using new math concepts, and the list goes on. Years down the road, these students have completed their schooling and still remember these lessons – the joy that brings to a teacher’s heart!
– The sense of being needed. I would be lying if I did not address this area. My students needed me and they let me know it on a daily basis. Most of the time, it was due to heart-breaking circumstances that I’d rather see never exist; however, since they did exist, I was grateful that I could help support the kids. My cell number was freely given out and I received calls at all hours. Some of the calls were out of boredom, to chat about neighborhood drama, to tell me about the newest song to hit the radio and other calls were due to abuse, fear, lack of proper hygiene, hunger, sadness and many other deep topics. I tried to remain as open, honest and encouraging as possible (which included bluntly telling girls, “he’s just a boy and you need to focus on school to further your life, so leave him alone!”). I will forever cherish and honor the fact that my students trusted me on such a profound level.
Truth be told, although this school made the greatest impact on my career, it was not without great expenses –financially, mentally, emotionally, socially…you name it. And unfortunately, the troubles of teaching expanded beyond this building and far into the educational system as a whole… (continued in the next post)
Ahmeli… that every teacher will feel the pure passion I felt during these years in the field.