A Teacher's Perspective: Inside the Public Schools

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.

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Craig, good stuff. People need to see this so it will perhaps shatter their perceptions that school is not, what is used to be. People have a bad habit of comparing the two as if that means anything. There is no comparison. This is a different time in a different world.

Please make it as raw as you experienced it including how you felt.

I hope I can do just that, be as raw as I can. I'll try my best to describe the feelings I have/had to the feelings the kids have/had and I ain't trying to be politically correct. The Morehouse College Cum Laude and University of Mississippi "Who's Who?" educational background side is cool but I have a East St. Louis ghetto-ass side of me that I love! I will cuss and kick some ass(smile)! So readers don't be surprised or "hate" when I talk like that! It may allow/reveal some truth to really tell it like it 'tis! I'll get back with you!
Let me see where did leave off? Oh, I remember! My wife and I were headed to Memphis. We both had family in the midwest and the southeast. We were excited to be leaving Los Angeles and had hopes of getting closer to relatives and frends. Change would be good. But what would I be able to do? My wife was with the airlines. She was able to transfer to Atlanta immediately. She commuted to Memphis from ATL. My education would give me an advantage, I thought, in these parts so I was very excited. After being in Memphis for a few months, I was having a tough time finding meaningful employment. I worked at several factories for a temp agency and was getting really frustrated. I was either over qualified or not interested. One day my wife was jogging and she found herself talking to one of her old school teachers. How ironic? The former teacher was currently working with the school board in a leadership capacity and had mentioned to my wife that Memphis City Schools was starting an educational collaborative with Lemoyne-Owen College, Memphis State (now U. of Memphis), and Shelby State Community College (the local junior college). The collaborative's purpose would be to expedite the certification process of African-American men and women who already had their bachelor degrees in any subject. This program would afford them the opportunity to get certified in elementary education. She told her about my background and gave her the information for me to check into. I was well qualified> I looked into it and was accepted along with about a dozen other men and women to participate in the program. I was really excited! This would be a great opportunity to give back and help urban students, particularly, those at the elementary level. I had never really even given teaching a real thought as a career but my few months teaching in Los Angeles made me think about it. If I could learn some classroom management techniques, some instructional skills, some theories and history of education, then maybe, just maybe, I could do this and be effective. I knew it would be a challenge but I felt blessed and excited to have this opportunity. You see my father was an educator for 30 plus years in East St. Louis, where I had been raised. So was my mother! She had taught computer skills and programming at the college level. I knew I could do this with the proper training. It was in my genes. I had the desire, the drive and the heart! I had finally found my calling! The feelings were joy and overwhelming gratitude. I was excited to the umpteenth power! (smile) Let the process begin!
Hopefully, as I share how I felt early on in the profession and how I feel now, I can regain some of the excitement and joy. After nearly 20 years I see a shift. I see so many changes in the profession. I try to keep a positive attitude. I am the eternal optimist. But I am also a realist. I hope in sharing my journey I can help other teachers and/or students. I also hope I can keep my focus and remember my mission. I don't just want to teach. I want to have an impact on students' lives in a positive manner but sometimes I wonder am I really doing any good? Am I impacting the students in a positive way or am I a becoming a part of the problems we have in the system. I don't want to be a part of the problem. Is the process/institution working? Is the public education system really working? Hopefully, I can recieve some input as I share my side. I want to be a part of the solutin, not the problem.
Excited about having an opportunity to teach, I was attending classes at LeMoyne-Owen College, Shelby State and the University of Memphis. I was hyped! I learned alot about pedagogy, various teaching methodologies and classroom management. We were taught the so-called "right ways" to teach reading, math, social studies, science, etc. I learned about discipline, curricullum standards, assessment, the self-fulfilling prophecy, etc. We even took a course on teaching the exceptional/special education students. At the University of Memphis I took a course on children's health issues which I felt was really interesting. It made me aware of the problems many of our students face, from drug addictions to coming from homes of drug addiction to gang influences. The course work took two semesters of full-time study. I did quite well! I kept an A-average! I believe we earned about 30 hours to recieve our elementary certification. We also had to do student teaching at both a city and a county school. This is where the fun began. This was the real nitty-gritty, so-to-speak. My city student teaching experience was at an elementary school in North Memphis. It was considered a "Title I" school! I'm not real sure what that means but that is what it is! The school was 100% African American and had a high percentage of special needs students. The socio-economic status of the population was quite obvious. The students came from families and households at or below the poverty level. But they appeared to be well loved. I was student teaching in a 5th grade English class. The kids were kids!! They seemed bored to death on a daily basis but since there were two adults in the room, we were able to teach and control them better. The operable word is "control"! The teacher gave them instruction and I assisted, as much I could with the work and classroom management. I believe the class room had over 30 kids and the majority of the students were below average in test score data.

One incident stands out above all others while I was there. The classroom had a coat rack in the back where many students would hang their back packs and coats. Often the students would have to use the restroom. In elementary schools there are specific times when this is allowed or you have to walk them individually. This one particular day a young man needed to go to the restroom but for some reason he was not allowed. He kept disturbing the class! The class' teacher made him go to the cloak room. He complied! o problem!! We went on with the other students' lesson! He had been in the room for about a half hour when we started to smell something. We went back to check! We realized the young man had used the restroom and had wiped himself with the scarves of other students. He appeared to have no shame! The classroom and the whole 2nd floor was smelling. The young man had no shame and was glad to face the consequences. In my judgment, we should have let him go to the restroom when he asked but I was the assistant and was brand new at this stuff! I was following the cue of the teacher. In hindsight, shouldn't have! Never-the-less, I learned a valuable lesson.

There were many other incidents like this during my 6 week stay. Many weren't as serious but they were all new to me. Student teaching was quite the wake-up! The students learned as much as they could under the circumstances. The school seemed crowded and real loud. Somelearning was takingplace but a lot of disciplinary problems seemed to make it hard to teach most days. The school reminded me of a young folk warehouse, a jail or an orphanage. The school was filled with young Black, energetic and loud children all over the place. It had bells ringing reminding them when to move and when not to move. There were adults with whistles and paddles and stern faces to remind the students who was running the asylum. It was a bit depressing!! Many of the young men and women received corporal punishment. It was administered often, disproportionately to the young men by the assistant principal, who was male. He stayed busy! I noticed paddling didn't help much but it did remove/diffuse immediate problems. It appeared to give teachers some instant relief. Overall, the experience was good but I was glad when it was over! We did recieve a little break because of the great ice storm of Memphis! It made by time go by much quicker. Thank God! To be continued!
After sharing my last time, I gave some thought to how I felt about the situation that led to the young man using the restroom in the coat room. I felt sad that the young man had to use the trash can and wipe with others' clothes. I felt shameful about not taking him to the restroom. I probably could have but I was following the cue of the teacher. She sent him in there. I didn't say anything because that's what was done to me when I was growing up. I felt sad and shame about being a part of a situation that would even have this happen. These types of events happen on a daily basis, I'm sure. The principal was perceived to be a disciplinarian. I remember her as being a firm and mean looking Black female. The assistant principal was a Black male who used the paddle alot. There is so much confusion, shame and anger going on in the school houses that it becomes mentally draining. I needed to drop this off before I move on. I felt that the people in charge of these places called "schools" are as lost as the students. I'll continue later with some more thoughts before I go on to my next stop, a county school that was primarily Caucasian. Our schools appears to be a place where our young men and women are being subjected to the values and principles of a much larger society. Is it working? I'm not sure at all anymore. When students have to beg to use the restroom. When students have to beg to get some water. When students sleep all day and are too tired to stay awake. When the peer pressure is the dominant learning piece. I'm not sure anymore!
Craig, it takes courage to be this honest about one's life and love. The first way out of any situation, mental or physical, is to admit you are in it. Brother if just 1/10 of the teachers and educators would start doing what you are we'd have ourselves a movement to right some insane wrongs.

Something as massively important as the education of our children and their schools that have degenerated to holding facilities and way stops on the way to prison deserves to be examined and examined closely. This was not always the mission of "colored schools" though the indoctrination of students to support a continuing work force is the mission of public education.

What we are talking about here are the shadows of public education. Those things we are in denial about. That, that we repress, hides, cast off, don't accept, and finally project onto the children is the area of shadow land we seem to be in. It's like holding a hot potato. We keep passing it hoping like hell it will never come back to us, but it does.

There is a mathematical equation involved here and every time I ask this question of so called leaders they think they deftly dodge it, they do not. I just stop pursuing it. That equation looks like a pyramid drawn on a board with lines representing different level of social, career and economic stratus. On the very bottom are poor people and uneducated people. If you look at a pyramid that is where the majority of your mass is. Right above them is your working poor and the great deal of the population of the country are the working poor.

Oh I know people have again allowed the government to define what poor is for them, but if you are making under $50 per hour chances are you belong to that group. Tell you what miss two paychecks and tell me what you are then? Some people call you "wage slaves", but that's another story, though vital, that needs to be told.

Above them are the so - called middle, middle class. You know the ones in debt to credit card companies that it will take 20 years to pay back $3000 on just one card. Most families have several. They have a car note perhaps two, a mortgage, cable, phone, cell and home phones, utilities, gas, insurance, food and the other odds and ends. So what's left for savings, or joy? Hell, what’s left period?

As you get closer to the top the space becomes limited. Oh I know some folks would like to think their high paid unskilled job puts them in upper middle class, but a great deal of professional people are not even close to making $250,000 a year. So they can stop flogging. Next we are getting to upper level managers, business owners, CEOs and the like and is the squeeze on to get there and you are getting pretty close to that cap stone.

Finally there is the ruling class, the owners, the major stock holders, the super rich and few, very few are in this exclusive club of the super powerful. While we point our children to the top we are not aiming them there. We only use that ruse as a means of keeping them to the grind. The real truth is most people will be performing dull, mundane, boring, meaningless jobs most of their lives, and especially if they live in Memphis, TN!

We have them singing, "I Believe I Can Fly" when in reality very, very few will even get the opportunity to jump, or even glide let alone fly. You don't think they know this? You don't think they know we are lying to them? What, are they counting that badly? I don't think so. I think it is the adults who are living under the blanket of lies and illusions and the children keep reminding them!
Al, In October, I applied to a program, New Leaders for New Schools. This was my third time. Each of the last two times I got to the first round of interviews. The first time I didn't but I did recieve an e-mail message saying thanks for my interest. The first time I applied I had dreads and an earring. Enough said! (smile) This last time I felt I had a better chance. I took the earring out and as you know my dreads are gone. It didn't work! I may have been too old or too honest. But I tried!! The first time I was interviewed by an Asian guy and a Caucasian guy. It was a long process and I thought I had done well. Guess not! This second time I was interviewed by a Black, middle-aged woman and another Caucasian guy. Again, it was a long process and I thought I had done good. Again, I guess I wasn't what they wanted. I have multiple degrees, 17 years in experience and, most importantly, the passion to lead. But!!! Therefore, I have decided that my higher power wants me to do something different. This must be it! It must be meant for me to tell the truth about what is happening in these buildings we call public schools.

New Leaders for New Schools is without a doubt, a business. Public education has changed, drastically, since "See Dick Run!" It isn't the same!! Corporate America has decided, in my judgment, to enter into the business of educating our children. Corporate America has sucessfully entered into the correctional business so I guess they have decided they can be successful running the field of education. Why not? Our public has failed. This will be ongoing so I'm sure I'll share more of my thoughts, feelings and judgments about many, many, things. Thanks for this forum!! I'm in!!
Craig, truth be told corporate America is the sole reason we got what became public education in the first place and you can prove that to yourself. Go to and look for the underground history of public education in America. Read it and weep my friend. Well hell you are already doing that. Just read it.
Thanks Al. I am famiiar with the invisible curriculum. My grad school professor was a brother at Ole Miss with his doctorate and real heavy cat. He was challenged weekly by the white students and he would use data and stuff like this to shut them down. This is excellent stuff. I believe I am on the right path now! (smile) My next stop will be my student teaching experience at a predominantly white county school. It was a different experience in the county but things were about the same there, At the time the demographics was different when it comes to teachers and students but the intent was about the same. I'll continue to explain as I process some things.
Thank God! Schools are closed for two weeks so that we can regroup, administration, teachers, and students. I have to share what happened to me this week or I may forget. I doubt it! (smile) Let me preface this entry by saying, for the most part, teaching is an exciting, rewarding and never boring profession.

This past week, I was giving my semester exams to all of my classes. To be honest it gives me an opportunity to assess where the students are and it also prepares some students for college because most college and university classes give mid term and final exams. I had made several exams to assess the basic French knowledge of my students. I was allowing them to use their books and notes but didn't want a whole lot of talking. It was an idependent exercise, not a group activity. Enough said. I passed it out to this class and was monitoring them when I notices many didn't have a clue about my instrucitons. They weren't taking me serious. I calmly walked over to one student and got his paper. I shared with the other students, as I ripped it up, that "this is what I do to those who don't take this serious!" The student immediately called me a "Hoe-Ass Nigger" and a "Bitch-Ass Nigger"! I kept my calm as he left the classroom in anger. He left his coat so I knew he would have to come back. Meantime, I used the incident as a teaching opportunity. I shared with the remainder of the class that I am ot going to be too many more "Bitch Ass Niggers" or "Hoe Ass Niggers!" They heard me! I went in the hall and addressed the young man who had shown back up. He heard me too! I reminded the students that they wouldn't call me that in the parking lot or at WalMart or Krogers. There would be more serious consequences. The student apologized and we laughed!

Another situation that took place this week was with a young female student. It was in academic counseling class (study hall)! I noticed that she and this young man were always talking and sitting by each other. I asked her if that was her boyfriend. He smiled and she said, "I'm just trying to get me some dick!" I was caught off guard by her comment but again, knowing the culture of these kids, simply used it as a teaching moment. I told her she shouldn't talk like that and told the young man to be careful because it is dangerous out here. He got my point!

These are just two of my most recent incidents. They occur daily and often overshadow the purpose of why students should be coming to school. I will continue to elaborate but I had to share these two incidents. More will be revealed.
Commercial Appeal Post today "I am a MCS teacher and see students like Cherry on a daily basis. I try my hardest to find ways for them to succeed, knowing their circumstances are not the best. I have many who are coming from a subculture that is totally polar to academia. They come from dysfunctional homes and families. Many young female students themselves have children. Many students are on/sell drugs. They are in gangs and caught in a system of poverty and ignorance. Yet, with a decent education they can still have some hope.

This week I was called a "Hoe A-- Ni----" and a "Bi--- A-- Ni----" by a male student who I was calling out for cheating. The situation didn't go beyond the classroom because, in most cases, if it does, nothing worthwhile is done. Okay, he may get suspended. Big deal! I choose to talk to my students.

These situations happen daily where I have to redraw the lines so students have a chance. Many people in power like Dr. Cash and his administration need more than standardized test scores and money to fix our problems. The Bureaucrats and politicians don't have a clue! Neither do the masses! What teachers and students deal with on a daily basis is like an educational/social Vietnam or Afghanistan. It is becoming a wasteland for the hopeless. We are at war and, I judge, the public schools and our communities are losing if it continues the way it is going.

The obstacles of peer pressure, poverty, crime, drugs, gangs and ignorance are devastationg our schools. It'll take more than $90 million to clean up this mess in order for the Cherry's of the world to have a chance. What we are preparing them for is the criminal justice system. It appears to be benefiting the most form an inadequate educational system that addresses unrealistic test scores and not the real problems of the students it educates. Our clients aka students are failing because we are failing them. Their problems are greater than reading, writing and arithmetic in 2010. We are facing huge obstacles. Wake up people! Wake up! Help is really needed if this community is seriously concerned. Our kids need our help!! Spare the lip service."


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