A misplaced post from September 11, 2011
Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit.” Lila Downs’s “La niña.” A marathon ten hours holed up indoors with my co-teacher doing research yesterday on a picture perfect New York Saturday, the culling of ancillary material for a hopelessly idealistic, intellectually challenging, and existentially relevant unit on modern day slavery, exploitation, and human trafficking for our 8th graders. These weekends spent talking shop, discussing the various systems and routines we have in place, and figuring out this co-teaching dynamic have me excited.
School started two days before, on a sunny Thursday, a day where, if I were working in an office and chatting around the water cooler, I’d remark that it would have been a great day to head to the beach. But for the movement of a million children from one end of the city to the other, it would have been any other summer day — it wasn’t. For me, it was a day filled with anticipation at the prospects of rejoining the ranks, planning, teaching, learning, bonding with students, and challenging them to think creatively and aspire to new heights. But this is New York City, so it has to, it must, it’s expected to be more complicated than that and so my idealized class returned to more earthly heights and the practicalities of a mixed abilities classroom.
None of what I’m saying should be construed to be complaints, rather, musings on the particular challenges of high-needs teaching and the inherent difficulties of adolescence magnified by unimaginable issues of class, race, immigrant status, language, and the plethora of other topics we often tell ourselves children should never have to confront. Yet they do; and regardless of the de rigueur meme of a “no-excuses” culture, it’s oftentimes far from the realities — personally, home and work aren’t mutually exclusive, and, if I as an adult can’t always separate successfully my personal life from my work life, I’m not so sure we can expect students to be able to do so, either. So in my class of over 30 students, over a third of whom require specialized services, 5 of whom speak English at varying levels of proficiency, and the overwhelming proportion of whom were judged to be below standards according to the state, it’s hard to prioritize, it’s hard to know where to begin and how to tackle the multiple challenges that confront us as a class.
Am I optimistic that I can take on the challenge? Yes. Am I hopeful my students will rise to the challenge and prove that life circumstances aren’t the sole determinant of academic success? Yes. Do I wish it would be easier? Yes. But I also know that what I’m doing isn’t easy and it isn’t meant to be easy. I just hope that I’m a strong enough teacher and a strong enough person, nee, the right person to lead my students to someplace better.