Inner City English Teacher

Inner City English Teacher

TiredTeacher

NY Metro Area, NJ

Female, 37

I teach English to 11th grade inner city students. I love my students and do whatever I can to help them succeed, which is quite a mission. These kids face obstacles most of us cannot even imagine: gangs, incarcerated parents, domestic violence and much more. Everyday I read journal entries that would curl your toes...and often I feel I compromise my ethics to get these kids to pass, which I am very conflicted about. Many pass who, frankly, should not.

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Last Answer on June 01, 2014

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If you have a kid who you KNOW is super smart but you can tell he's dumbing it down for his friends, what do you do?

Asked by ( - ^ - ) over 11 years ago

Actually that has happened quite a few times, because in my school, being smart is nerdy and definitely not cool. I often pull them aside, even track them down in another classroom and have a long chat with them. I explain to them that they are wasting their potential and instead of acting all "street" they can use their intelligence to be a leader and show their friends that this is a ticket out of the nighborhood. In fact, this past summer I had a long coversation with a boy who was borderline failing and I pulled him out into the hall and we spoke about how he is wasting his time and my time if he continues to act out. He looked down at the floor and I kept insisting he look me in the eyes and admit to me that I am right. Well, this hard-core show off boy started to bawl like a baby...the last day of school he gave me a hug and thanked me for my advice. I told him I would check up on him throughout the school year and make sure he is optimizing his abilities. It's funny how sometimes (but not all) a real heart-to-heart with them and their mother goes a long way. It shows them that I really care and want them to succeed. I just wish it worked all of the time!

What's the biggest success story you've seen from one of your former students?

Asked by Calico81 over 11 years ago

The first thing that comes to mind is a girl who I'll call Maria (not her real name). Maria was a very shy, withdrawn student when I had her as a freshman. She was bright, but you could see that issues at home were preventing her from coming out of her shell. She would come to my room during her lunch period to sit with me, have lunch together, and just talk about life. She was very guarded about her home situation but I could tell she had an absentee mother and devoted, hard-working father. We spoke about life, family, school and the concept of staying the course and not ever giving up. As Maria progressed through school, even though I no longer had her as a student, I had her in homeroom one year and we would catch up every day. She was joining clubs, getting active in volunteering and maintaining an A average. I remember after returning from a trip to Washington DC, she excitedly told me, "Miss, can you believe that when I took a shower at the hotel, the hot water never ran out." A real eye-opener. To fast forward, we would always stay in contact, as she would visit me in my room, or I would help her with her essays. By senior year, she had succeeded in becoming the valedictorian, obtaining a full scholarship to a terrific, private college. When she gave her graduation speech, we all agreed it was the best we had heard in years. We still stay in touch; she texts me with updates and successes. (and after 4 years, her father saved up to buy her her own laptop!)

Do you get emotionally discouraged when every year you see a new crop of low-income kids? Do you feel like one teacher can make a difference in the face of wave after wave of disadvantaged students?

Asked by liza over 11 years ago

Yes, it is very emotionally discouraging to see a new crop of low-income kids. I wish that things would get better, but each year presents its own set of problems, i.e., drug addiction, pregnancy, illiteracy, etc. However, I do feel that I can make a difference because my kids tell me I do. When you see them graduate, and then they come back to visit you is the ultimate reward. When they text or call you, asking for a reference for a job once they get out of college is a reward. When their parent or guardian wells up when they describe how you encouraged their child or stuck by their child is a reward. You must get in the mindset that there will be many kids who fall through the cracks, who do not succeed, and that is so painful. So you must focus on the positives, or frankly, you wouldn't be able to get up in the morning. Often I feel as though I am spinning my wheels, until a kid comes up to you in the halls and hugs you to tell you that they just got accepted into the college of their choice, then you feel happy again. It's really a true roller coaster on a daily basis, and it's not for the faint of heart, that's for sure!

Assuming there were no witnesses, if a student in your school attacked a teacher and the teacher injured the student while acting in self-defense, would the teacher be penalized?

Asked by Mr. Clark over 11 years ago

That's a tricky question, because it would ultimately be the kid's story versus the teacher's. And you always have to be careful that someone isn't lurking with a cell phone and its trusty ubiquitous camera. It's so frustrating, not only to avoid fights but to keep your mouth shut as a kid is cursing you out. My first year here, a girl (who I later found out was on probation for aggravated assault) lunged at me. Luckily, a guard came between us and saved me, literally. Another once yelled at me that she hoped my kid came down with AIDS. Yeah, it's a jungle. As far as I know, though, there is usually some type of penalty against a teacher touching a kid in any way, self-defense or not.

Even if they're impoverished, do you get the sense that the parents wanna help their kids make a better life for themselves? Or are the parents just absent, indifferent, abusive, etc??

Asked by Dilly Dalia over 11 years ago

One of the biggest problems we face is parent apathy. If more parents were involved in their kids' academic lives, these kids would have a better chance. I also have taught in suburban schools where parent involvement is way over the top, in which case all you do during your prep is answer parent emails asking why Johnnie didn't get an "A" on his last test. On the other side of the coin, my district's population has such a lack of involvement, that we as teachers spend an inordinate amount of time trying to be parents to the kids as well. Don't get me wrong, there are very involved, concerned parents who want their kids to have a better life than they do, but unfortunately, they are in the minority.

Do you have to speak Spanish to work in an inner city school?

Asked by maya over 11 years ago

We don't have to but believe me, I wish I had paid more attention in my Spanish class in high school. You tend to pick up a lot of Spanish just being around the kids and they are more than happy to help you. One of these days when I'm not so stressed I plan on purchasing a Rosetta Stone guide and try to help myself. The problem is also that there are so many different dialects: Puerto Rican, Dominican, Venezuelan, Peruvian, etc. that they all speak differently to each other. You'd be surprised to know that many of the Spanish-speaking kids struggle in their Spanish classes because of the dialects. Gracias for the questions! :)

Does your school have metal detectors, and do most teachers approve or disapprove of this?

Asked by T-Time over 11 years ago

Our school does not have metal detectors, but we do have security guards who "wand" the kids. Teachers are all for safety, and with the addition of cameras throughout the school, we feel much more comfortable. I can't speak for other staff members, but I'm pretty sure that if they installed metal detectors, there would be no complaints!