Greg’s story is really a bunch of stories about his students and his journey of becoming a teacher. The book is refreshingly honest. There isn’t a cute, tidy ending to the story because the end hasn’t been written. His students are still struggling—struggling to find a voice, to find an education, and to find a way to make a difference. On page 180 (of 181), this jumped out at me:
“Test scores aren’t the only misguided obsession, of course. There are plenty of other equally maddening distractions. The topics that dominate our upper-grade staff meetings, for example, rarely have much to do with how we can better teach our kids, how we can help them see themselves and the world in new ways. In truth, we seldom have time to talk about individual students at all, unless one of them is being suspended or has broken some sot of rule. Instead we go back and forth about detention, schedules, or state goals, or lesson plan formatting, or bathroom supervision, or girls wearing too much makeup. The lipstick situation is getting out of hand. The minutiae become the agenda, and our mission, if we can even remember ever having one, gets buried underneath it all. It can all seem so overwhelming and discouraging that at times like tonight I ask myself why I continue. Why teach? Why do I do it? Why even go in to work tomorrow morning?”
He wraps it up with “making a difference.” His stories, his words remind me of my first few years of teaching. I taught at an inner city school where the expectations of the students was and continues to be low. Really, I believe that these kids could do it—whatever ‘it’ was, they just did not know how. They were caught in a vicious cycle—repeating their parents’ actions. I loved teaching there. Often, I miss it. Really. People often ask me if I was scared. Or, they remark that it must be disheartening. At times, it was. I had never worked so hard in my life. I went from an active social life to going to bed early. My colleagues at my previous career often commented on how teaching really agreed with me. After all, it was what I went to school for; I just had a six year detour.
I remember fondly my students. I still see many out in the community. Some still keep in touch. They were so desperate for someone to care. There was Mack with his big smile and easy going ways. I never taught him but he was always in my classroom after school. Star was my student in the 9th and 11th grades. In the 10th she had a beautiful baby boy. One day, she, another student Kim, and I were talking about their plans for the future. Both mothers had taken their experience to heart. They swore that they were going to finish school and somehow go to college. There is Dee who still calls me four years later for advice on her classes. My girl, Bethany serves our country in Korea. San is in his third year of college. The other day I went to my pharmacy and saw Monda behind the counter. She graduates this summer from college with a degree in biology. Her little girl is a sweet child. I could probably go on. To answer Michie’s question, they are why I teach. I left that school—not because of the students, or the parents, or even the course load. I left because of a bad administrator. I felt that I did not need to be treated as a sub human. I like where I am now—but, sometimes, I feel that they don’t need me as much as I need them.