Yesterday was a pretty busy day at work. We are nearing the end of Winter Quarter and a lot of people are applying and registering to start school in the Spring. I know I advised almost thirty students in the 6 hours that I worked, and that’s not including those I helped with course registration. During the lulls I checked email, input some notes into our advising software system, and checked-in on Twitter to see what everyone else was doing. As I worked away at the computer (y’all know that’s a lie, right?) a male student entered the office.
Me: Hi, how are you today?
Him: I’m good.
Me: Could you sign-in please? (He signs in and I continue talking to him, even though I am across the room.) Are you a new student?
Him: Yes ma’am.
Me: Ok. Just have a seat and I will be right with you.
He never sits down, not even when I started filling out his advisement sheet. His standing didn’t bother me because I am used to working with students who actually work better when they are allowed to move around. But I knew there was something more to his story. I asked him to come and have a seat next to me so that we could discuss his (very, very high) test scores and the program of study he chose (Automotive). Although he is pursuing the Diploma, I told him he should consider pursuing the Associates Degree because he performed so well on the skills tests. (NOTE: The whole time I that I talked with him, he was moving around, seemingly nervously. Again, it didn’t bother me but I knew there was something to it.)
After I explained the courses that were available and the times, we moved to a computer so that I could show him how to register for his classes. We’re searching the system and when he notices the class times, he tells me:
Him: I may not be able to do this one because I am taking another class at that time.
Me: Oh! When does your class end?
Him: Whenever they say I am finished.
Me: (A little confused) Oh not the time, the date? The Spring Quarter doesn’t start until April 2nd.
Him: No see, I am in like a half-way house type of program. I have to take drug counseling classes. I can talk to my counselor and see if she will let me change my schedule around.
Me: Ok. We can still register you today, then you can take her a copy of your schedule so she can see it. If you aren’t able to work around it just come back and we will find you some classes in the evening.
As we continued the registration process, we engaged in more not-so-small talk. I asked him where he graduated from high school because he told me he once taught in the G.E.D. program. He told me that he dropped-out of high school and received his G.E.D. from a different technical college. So this whole time we’re chatting, I’m thinking: This kid (younger than 20) doesn’t even know me, yet he felt compelled to tell me all of his business. Hmmm. Now I wonder what it is about him that made him feel he needed to share all of that? I wonder what it is about me that made him feel had to tell me all of that?
I asked myself these same questions last week when another male student came in for advisement. This particular young man made sure I knew he was a convicted felon. Not sure why, but he did. I guess since he doesn’t really know me, he doesn’t know that I taught my students ‘Labels don’t matter.’ Upon leaving prison, do they tell inmates: ‘From now on, when you introduce yourselves to people, make sure you tell them you are a convicted felon?’ By no means am I saying that anyone should be embarrased by or ashamed of their past, but it is called a ‘past’ for a reason. In other words: DO NOT bring it into your future unless it is absolutely necessary. Perhaps I should start grabbing those young men, both Black and White, and saying to them:
‘You walked in that door because you have a hunger for something. Once you cross the threshold, nothing else matters to me. It certainly should not matter to you or anyone else. You <fill-in-the-blank> but that is something you did, not who you are. The system had you in a stifling classroom, then a jail cell. Don’t let them put you in (another) box now that you are on the outside.’
Or, the easier thing would be to tell them about all the illegal s*&% my family members have done (mostly before I was born). They probably wouldn’t believe me. Hell, I still giggle when I think about it. But I always made sure my students knew that I was human, and therefore, susceptible to some of the same familial dysfunction, temptation, etc. as themselves. I think that’s where many of us (parents, teachers, etc.) fall short: We forget that we are human and have made mistakes instead of using our mistakes to help and guide those who are lost.
I know one thing for sure: I am learning more from these students than they are learning from me. But they probably wouldn’t believe that either.
Dedication. Perseverance. Tenacity. Drive. Determination. Stong-willed. Driven. Call it what you will, but when I see people who come to this country, with little to no English-speaking skills, fleeing their war-torn countries, armed with all of those afore-mentioned characteristics and then some, I cannot help but be inspired. Who wouldn’t? But here’s what I do not understand: Why don’t I see more American-born Blacks with that same fire? Our African ancestors (yes, we do have direct ties to Africa-I know some choose to forget or deny them) were beaten for the simple act of learning to read. They were not allowed to attend school. Yes, a few were but by-and-large the majority of them did not have that opportunity.
A female student came into the office yesterday. She explained that she completed her G.E.D. classes and has a diploma from her country as well; she was eager to start taking classes at the technical college. There were a few minor hiccups in getting her enrolled, but not once did she sigh, roll her eyes, complain, or stomp off in a huff. I had to send her to two different offices before she could actually register. I will admit that I would have been a little peeved myself, but not her. When she returned, I explained to her that she would need to complete some Adult Education classes but we could register her for one Math class. Again, no complaints. In her mind, she was one step closer to getting an (American) education. The thing that many of us take for granted. A thing many more of us do not consider. We have become too complacent. No, a college education does not guarantee a cushy job or financial security, but too many of us are still living in the cities/towns in which we were born. A larger number of us have never traveled outside the state where we were born. Who knows how many of us have actually traveled abroad? And we harbor too many stereotypes of (non-U.S. born) people because we limit our education to what they feed us on the idiot box. *Gi-normous sigh*
I do know this much is true: With everything that has occurred in her country, she still earned her high school diploma. And she carried that piece of paper around with her as though it is worth $1 million dollars. To her, it probably is. She has been on my mind since yesterday. I do not know my next move. I still struggle trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow-up. But her spirit is contagious; it reminded me to appreciate my education, not so much for the act of getting it but moreso for the fact that I was able to get it. The opportunity was there; I took it and ran.
Fleeing a war-torn country, she managed to grab that piece of paper before she left. What will you ‘grab’ before you leave?
That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight, I’m
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try
‘Losing My Religion’ – R.E.M.
I can’t explain what’s been going on with me lately. I haven’t written
as much as I did in the past or as much as I promised I would shit in weeks or months. I don’t know; I haven’t bothered to check the date on the last entry. It’s not that I don’t have anything on my mind. In fact, the contrary is true: I have a lot on my mind because there is a lot going on. I even started writing blog titles and notes in my little composition book. Yeah, that’s the teacher-in-me. But the passion/spark/fire is gone. Or as B.B. King would say: ‘The thrill is gone baby/It’s gone away from me.’ I guess I am just tired because I feel as though I am saying the same things over and over again. And no one is listening, or they just don’t give a damn. Maybe it’s the fact that I am one of millions of parents who feels both voiceless and powerless in this freakshow they call education reform. And by they, I clearly mean the people who don’t know shit about what it takes to teach a class of 15-30 students, where they all have different learning needs/styles and come from different backgrounds (READ: They got stuff going on to which educrats will never be able to relate). Add to that the fact that teachers are no longer teaching for the love of the profession, but because they are scared shitless of some bureaucrat taking away their collective bargaining rights (if they had them to begin with) or harrassing the hell out of them for no other reason than, well, they don’t have shit else to do (because they can’t effectively do anything else). Let’s also throw in the fact that teachers, the people who spend years in training, are being scape-goated for everything that is wrong with education even though they DO NOT make any decisions regarding curriculum, school day/calendar, etc. That’s akin to blaming a patient who dies on the operating table for a mistake made during surgery. That makes sense. I won’t even start on the perceived powerlessness of parents. I will save that for another day because while we are all enthralled by the revolutions in other countries, we are not yet ready to start our own.
Yeah. Like Kelly Price, ‘I’m Tried.’ And I have lost the respect I once had for some of those on the front lines of education. If it takes bashing single parents, kids, and dedicated teachers to sell books, make movies, and get a segment on CNN, then I guess I will continue to get my black ass out of bed every morning and be like the rest of the working stiffs. At least I will be able to look at myself in the mirror everyday and actually like what I see.
In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions on how to best recharge my mojo, I am open for suggestions.