After five weeks of turmoil, terror, and terrible conditions both social and cultural at Hawthorne High School, I resolved to bring in the dean for help. She insisted on telling me that I needed to create routines for the students to follow. But the students had decided long ago that they were never going to respect, investing themselves in slowing down any real attempts at instruction. The whole venture was a failure from the first day, as students went from asking me “Are you are new teacher” to “Did you get fired yet?” The sheer folly of thinking that I would get hired in such a n insipid campus was worsened by the appalling and unappealing lack of leadership, including the dean, who offered to come to my assistance, even though she had confided to me that she ended up running out of the classroom herself because of such a hateful slew of disrespectful reprobate students who had no incentive or insight to cooperate or demonstrate any respect.
The dean had permitted students to yell at her in front of other students! She also tacitly admitted that her own son was acting up in school and getting suspended. This woman had no business being a dean, and she did not want the job. She wanted to be a counselor, yet she could not get a job as counselor. She had also been a history teacher --- and apparently a poor one, at that. What a shame, that I was at so low an ebb that I was resorting to this woman’s assistance to tame an unruly class, so outrage and overwhelming in their inherent failure.
At the outset, she resolved to pass out a flyer with the following questions:
1.Why do you have to take history?
2. What does it take to be a good student in class??
2. Name one thing that you can change?
3. Name one thing that the teacher can change?
Weakened with the shock and difficulty of my own circumstances and inner conflicts, I went along with this classic pillorying which has now defined classrooms today – the teacher is at fault.
After the empty and useless denunciations, one young lady spoke up, and she spoke up for me:
“This is the worst class. I feel that I am not learning anything – and it’s not the teacher’s fault! It’s the fault of students in this class who will not let him teach. This whole discussion is a waste of time.”
She spoke the truth, she spoke from the heart. But there was one slight error. If there was any fault with me, it was that I made the students’ rampant and unmitigated disrespect my fault, attempting to tame the nonsense because I did not want to appear weak or lose the job altogether to another substitute. Aside from that, in every way Shannen was spot on. I now know and believe this in retrospect, standing on the rock of stoked and stocked outrage. I never deserved to be treated with such disdain and unending wretched folly – but at the time, I had no idea who I was, what I had, and what I wanted to do.
The fiasco of public education in urban areas is studded with such dud experiences for many teachers, facing the onslaught of poor leaderships and character assassination that slaughters otherwise adequate and capable educators.
Shannen, I write this post in the vain hope that some day you will know that your words did not fall on empty ears. It took me a while to catch up with the truth of who I am, and what I had to offer, and what the school could never have provided. I believe that your diligence will take you many places. If the world needs one things, it is the boldness to speak up for those who are trying, who fear that they have no voice of their own. Thank you, Shannen!