Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's a Diffferent World, than where you come from

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.


Rach said...

Unbelievable post. I don't know that much about your job and what you do so thank you for letting us in on it.
I also feel that way with some of my clients, and especially when I was working with kids a couple of years ago from the south side. He used to dodge bullets sometimes to take out the trash, craziness!

Kimberly said...

Hi there...thanks for visiting my blog. Haven't had a chance to read your post yet, but I wanted to respond to your comment before I went to bed: Six months is a HUGE growth spurt time. So maybe it isn't so much of a decrease in supply issue as it is an increase in demand? And if the baby is skipping a nursing session b/c solids have been introduced, your breasts might think that not so much milk is needed?

Just some thoughts. Have a great night!!!

Shosh said...

Wow. My father worked in the public school system for over 30 years and only worked with kids from tough neighborhoods. I think he went in idealistic about changing the world but quickly saw that its not that easy. of course, things could be better for this boy you talk about. he could stay in school, he could try to stay out of trouble. but with no family members helping him do that, no support system of friends to do it with him, it will make it very, very difficult for him. its just such a terrible reality. don't you want to just bring them home with you sometimes? its so sad, but its so amazing that they at least have you as a role model in their lives.

elisha said...

Shosh-I do want to bring them home with me and give them everything they are supposed to get but don't.

And I LOVE my job. And there are MANY success stories. Just today other 8th graders told me I am the best teacher because I make their learning fun.

But it's always the ones I want to save and can't that hit me the hardest.

Michelle said...

Awesome post. I don't have any advice on how to reach him, but you should read as many inspiring teacher memoir/novels as you can to learn how to reach him! You have to help him! I think if you can reach out and change just one person, that is amazing (and I know you have a greater impact than you think you have Miss Queen Bee.) :) You know that one quote (don't remember where it's from) that if you save one life, you save the whole world? Try to do your best even though it's hard on the heart, but use some creativity to help these kids see that there is more to life out there than their present reality. Show them that they have options if they just believe in themselves. Maybe get them involved in a giving project or something that is larger than themselves? Amazed by what you do you!

Yitzy, Seth said...

Michelle, the quote is "save the cheerleader, save the world." ;)

Hon, that is a really eye-opening post. I'm always impressed with your ability within your profession... you really care about your students and THEY KNOW IT! That means a lot. That boy needs to know that he CAN escape if he works for it hard enough. He's got a hell-of-a-lot going against him due to his environment, but that's where the true "heroes" come from - those that triumph over insurmountable odds, not the spoiled brats that get everything handed to them on a platter. He can choose to build his character and work for a better life (and it will be an uphill battle), or he can waste away like his perceptions tell him he is destined to be. Perception does not have to be reality.

Mom said...

E, Maybe you can find a mentor from Big Brothers/Big Sisters or a church group that has a youth group to work with this boy. Or is it too late to get him involved in a group in school (music, choir, chess, etc. that could get him involved in a good way. And just keep talking to him, maybe something will click. It's a shame that you only have him another 5-6 weeks in your group. You make me so proud that you are one of those teachers who really cares about your students. Good luck, sweetheart.