For months, I have been looking for an opportunity to share what physically and mentally goes on inside a classroom. This may be the place. I won't (at least I'll try) get into a lot of philosophy, just the day to day stuff or, as they say in sports,"keeping it between the lines." I'll have to give some of my background and since I'm almost at the end of my career, I will bring you up to speed as to where I've been and the things that went on at those schools. This will be an ongoing process so get ready to ride with "Teacher Man! I will try to let you in on some of the things that really go on in the Public Schools, Monday through Friday, bell to bell! I will share a little bit about my training and I'll try to bring you along using my ears and eyes. Hopefully, you can feel, see and hear what I feel, see and hear because I will give it to you like/as it happens. And trust me, I need this discussion as much as anyone!
Coming to Memphis, Tennessee, in the early nineties, I had an opportunity to get certified in a program called 'Project Teach!" It was a collaborative program involving Memphis State( at that time!), LeMoyne-Owen College and Shelby State Community College. It gave a few minority students with bachelor degrees an opportunity to get certified in elementary education. I jumped at the opportunity since working for temp services throughout this city was not what I considered my cup of tea. I also felt I could really give back to the students. I knew it was a great opportunity. Not that it meant anything but my father was an educator and so was my mother. So I thought I could do this. I was nearly 40 at the time and I had never given any real thought about making teaching a career. I had taught several months with an emergency credential in South Central Los Angeles and I thought it couldn't be any worse than that. And at least with this program I could get some valuable and necessary training to really help kids learn and be successful. So I took advantage of the opportunity.
My brief experience in Los Angeles was at Bethune Junior High on 78th and Broadway. It was in the middle of a strong Crip gang presence and there was beginning to be an East Los Angeles' hispanic growth spurt with gang issues too. Most of my students were Hispanic and Black. Many of the Hispanic students couldn't speak English well or at least they played like it. Many were new arrivals to the US and the LA community and, by law, all children have the right to attend public schools in America. I was teaching Algebra and was sharing a room with a white guy. I had scored high on the CBEST teaching aptitude test in all areas and particularly math so since they needed math teachers, I got hired. You see I had received a strong math training while in the public schools of East St. Louis so I knew I could do this. I didn't have any classroom management skills but thought I could handle the students since I was raised in East St. Louis and had survived the military. I had never had any education courses so I wasn't prepared for what I was about to deal with. It was a trip! Students wouldn't listen!! They would throw erasers!! Uniforms were whatever! At that time most students wore their colors.
One incident I remember was with Javier, a Latino kid. I spotted him tagging a wall and I shouted "stop"! He bolted and my instinct told me to go after him. He jumped the fence and boy was I embarassed. I thought I was doing what teachers are supposed to do. Right! I was told by a more experienced teacher to never chase after a student. That was that! They brought him back into the school and, subsequently, back into the room. Before the semester was over, I think he quit coming. Another memorable situation happened one day with a young Black student. He was really a good guy if/when he came to school but one day he dropped some weed after showing me a bankroll of money. He was affiliated with the Crips but that didn't bother me. Most were affiliated with some organization. When he dropped the money and the weed, he quickly picked it up and ran. Again, I ran after him but this time I stopped at the office. He left the building and eventually returned. I don't think much happened to him in terms of consequences. We laughed as a matter of fact about the money and the drug situation. He quit coming to class too, I think!
I lasted at Bethune until that Spring. It was daily chaos and confusion for me. They had several dances. The students got a snack break about 10:00am in the yard which was surrounded by fence. It reminded me of a penitentiary yard. Snacks were given and the students had an oppportunity to socialize and plan! The Principal was a Black lady (cute) and seemed rather under the radar. I dealt with her a few times because I had taken a lot of days off! (smile) I enjoyed teaching but the rigors day-to-day were rough. One day the white guy I was sharing a room with got pissed at me for some reason. I told him the room was the kids, not ours. It lead to more stress. He was very territorial while I was just there trying to help the students learn some algebra. Anyway, by the Spring I had found a job in the defense industry. I'll stop here for now. Next, we'll head to Memphis!(smile) Boy do I have stories to tell about this experience.