Inner City English Teacher

Inner City English Teacher


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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48 Questions


Last Answer on June 01, 2014

Best Rated

Have you ever been physically threatened or attacked by a kid you didn't pass?

Asked by 808-N8 over 5 years ago

I have never been physically threatened or attacked by a kid I didn't pass, rather the other way around. If a student crosses the line, as has happened quite a few times, then I will fail them. Just this past summer, in summer school, a student called me an obscenity and not only did I kick her out of summer school, but she automatically failed. (she had been spoken to a number of times and was given multiple chances to get her act together). When teaching these kids, you tend to let things slide sometimes, depending on their personal situations and their frame of mind, but fortunately my school takes threats VERY seriously and will not tolerate a teacher ever feeling unsafe, which has happened to me. (Now you know why I'm sooo tired, lol!) There have been instances where a student is acting irresponsibly or inappropriately and until you find out why, it's better not to jump to conclusions. For example, a very cranky student came into class exhausted every day and always had his head on his desk; it turns out that drug dealers had taken over his building and he was afraid to close his eyes at night. Some of the situations are unimaginable, but that's what keeps me motivated to help them as much as I can!

What was the saddest or most shocking journal entry you've read?

Asked by P.J. over 5 years ago

Unfortunately, there have been several. One journal entry concerned a girl who was cutting herself and was at the point where she pleaded for help (we did get her help). Another dealt with a male student who missed his dad who was in jail for drug dealing. (it's amazing how forgiving these kids are...they often declare their love despite what a parent or sibling has done). But probably the most shocking entry concerned a girl who was getting sexually abused by her uncle, and was afraid to tell anyone because he was helping the mom with the bills. Many girls in my school have issues with sexual abuse by a family member, which is the most shocking to me. Once we find out, of course, we are compelled to contact social services, although some beg us not to. There are days I come home so depressed and deflated that many of the kids fall through the cracks and we may never know what is truly going on at home. Some students have even asked me to come live with me, their situations at home are so dire. From the first day of school we talk about expressing our feelings and how their entries are "safe" with me; however, I do stress that if I read something that requires some sort of intervention, then I will do that. They are very open and safe at school, sometimes the only place they do feel safe. I wish I could save them all.

Are teachers like yourself pressured by school administrators to pass kids that aren't ready yet?

Asked by Helena over 5 years ago

Great question, Helena! There are a number of rationales for passing kids that frankly should not pass. One would be a bi-lingual student (my school is almost 70% Hispanic) who may be trying very hard but finds the language barrier too daunting. Or a student who plays sports who would otherwise be out on the streets. I have given students an "F" for a final grade, only to be overridden by the administration for whatever reason. Truth be told, once a kid is a senior and is already approaching 19 or 20, they will do whatever it takes to pass them, even if it is just an "attendance" diploma. I don't necessarily feel pressured to pass an unworthy student, and have turned down requests in the past by guidance counselors to pass a particular kid. However, there are definitely instances where an administrator will come to me and in no uncertain terms, declare that a student MUST pass. That's when I feel like a sell-out. As an educator, it is extremely frustrating, to say the least.

Does your school give self-defense instruction to teachers? Do you keep pepper spray or anything similar in your desk?

Asked by I_A_M_S_A_M over 5 years ago

Our school does not give self-defense instruction to teachers. When I first started here, I carried mace in my purse. I never used it and eventually threw it out. I have been in school first thing in the morning and very late at night and have never felt unsafe there. The neighborhood is very run down and creepy and you have to be careful where you walk if you want to get a coffee or a slice of pizza, but inside the school is actually very safe. Kids probably feel safer there than anywhere else. When I tell people where I teach their reaction is usually "are you crazy?" but believe me when I tell you I never feel threatened, unsafe or scared. There are so many good kids that they don't want to feel scared, either. The "thuggish" kids usually are expelled before they can cause any real issues.

Do inner city teachers get paid more than teachers at safer, suburban schools?

Asked by Jaclyn R. over 5 years ago

I'm not sure about that, but if we do get a higher salary, it's not by much. High schools in more suburban, wealthy districts probably make about the same as we do.

Do you think "No Child Left Behind" does more harm than good? Does it affect teachers at the high school level?

Asked by Mister Clark over 5 years ago

No Child Left Behind is and was a disasterous program. I am a firm believer that if a student does not deserve to move on to the next grade, then he/she should not. Because of the wide array of reading/learning levels that students possess, some are, frankly, not able to keep up, despite the attempts we make. We end up "teaching to the test" and relinquishing our creativity and ability to be the best we can be. We are becoming Stepford teachers, following specific directions and requirements by our administrators, instead of using our good judgment and innate sense of what is right for the kids. People don't realize what goes into a typical day in school. My classes are huge, with different abilities, behaviors and issues. Today I was actually crying in school, both from exhaustion and frustration! And it's only September. NCLB definitely affects teachers at the high school level because it disables the teachers' trust in themselves as qualified educators. This year my state waived NCLB and I, for one, am doing the happy dance because there was nothing positive I can say about it. I recently saw Tony Danza on TV talking up his book about being a teacher in Philadelphia. Yeah, Tony Danza. He gets to write a book and talk about the difficulties and hardships of being a "teacher." But if it brings attention to what we do on a daily basis in the trenches, then I guess it's a good thing. But, uh, Tony Danza??????

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 5 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!