Cue the music. . . Maybe this is an obscure reference but anyone who watched the sitcom "A Different World" in the 90's would know that it was part of their theme song.
I had an interesting conversation with a student today that really reminded me that even though we live in the same city, we really live in 2 DIFFERENT worlds. I am going to provide a little background because even if you know what I do, you might not really know.
I am a special education resource/inclusion teacher for students in grades 5th-8th. That means I pull kids out to help them and I also go into classrooms to help them and the teacher. I write IEP's, test students, and go to meetings. My students have many different diagnoses. They vary including but not limited to: learning disabled, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and other mental health diagnoses. I work in an urban public school that is primarily African-American and Hispanic. Many of my students get free or reduced lunch and the only food they eat for the day are the meals the school provides.
I have always known that we occupy 2 different worlds. I am married (many of their parents are not) and am part of a 2 parent household. I live my life according to religious principles which influence my values, morals, and ethics. These kids live by one word: SURVIVE (out on the streets). Whatever you need to do survive, that is how you live.
Today's conversation was even more eye-opening. Without going into any specifics or identifying details, an 8th grader told me that if the doesn't graduate 8th grade(he will have to go to an achievement academy-sort of preliminary high school) he will drop out. He continued talking and said that he is in an afterschool program( I think he is court-ordered to go, assume what you will) and he said that out of the 7 other boys that are there, half of them will be dead and the other half in jail in 10 years time. This was stated in a matter of fact way. This is his expectation for his life , his future. I told him it didn't have to be that way. His reply: "Mrs. B, everyone dies or goes to jail." Uh, not quite. However, in his reality that is probably true. Scary. I have been working this profession for years-it takes a lot to rattle me. The way he was describing his life RATTLED me.
He doesn't think he has choices. He doesn't think those choices influence his future. But he does and they do! It's pretty normal teenage behavior to think you are invincible. To think you can get away with things. But the stakes are so much higher when gangs, drugs, and violence are involved.
What I struggle with: How do I make him understand this? How do I help him see this? I am left with this feeling of failure about this boy who could make something of his life. The irony is that he is smart and very capable of learning. But already by 8th grade (probably even earlier) the streets have caught him.
I care about my students so much. Sometimes more than they care about themselves. Sometimes more than their parents or guardians care about them. I want the best for them but sometimes it feels like we live on different planets that speak different languages. I wish I could speak their language so they could understand.