During the inauguration, I read aloud Suzan-Lori Parks's "U Being U," a tribute to then President-elect Barack Obama to my class:
"I think I'll teach, and learn, from all I meet...
Just a little bit,
About how cool We The People are"
I burst into tears when I read,
"So I am giving you All the Love, All the Love, ..."
So a student completed the reading,
"Because I believe in the dream."
Afterward, trying to convince that student not to drop out, I reminded her of that shared experience. Two-thirds of our freshmen do not graduate.
Then, another student showed me a photograph of her brother, a murder victim, saying he appeared to her last night. Before we could work through the issue, all hell broke loose in the hallways and she disappeared for two months.
Our school used to get counselors after killings. Now we get nothing. We were on a skeleton crew following my last student's murder when gang fights broke loose. We also were counseling with the newly returned student when her mother had chest pains. Rushing between crises, I noted a hallwalker, dancing awkwardly and not enjoying himself. I overheard, "Did you see him die?"
"Yeah, I saw the whole thing."
He was my deceased student's brother. The school's intervention -- reduce his schedule to "half days."
I had become a teacher after my neighborhood was devastated by "VooDoo economics," the banking collapse and the Reagan HUD scandal. The "Hoova" set of the Crips gang then took over. I was planting trees on abandoned lots when "Pookie" and "Dookie" put down their dad's brass knuckles to help water the plantings, and other kids followed. Once I confronted a dealer chasing my buddies with a broomstick. After being invited inside to prevent the aggressor's return, I marveled at the worldview from within a crack house.
My first day in an inner city high school, I took two punches to the head before clocking in. Four times, I've had conversations with students and hours later they were dead. Twice, I made my case, and hours later my students pumped bullets into a victim's chest. I struggle to recall my kids who have died violently, or killed someone, but I lose track at around forty.
President Obama has done good things for schools, but he supports "reformers" who blame teachers for our urban ills. I still support President Obama. We elected him to more than school board chair. But our president has turned us into his "Sister Soulja,"calculating that he can sound tough by beating up teachers who have devoted all our love to our kids. Of all people, a former community organizer should understand why we need wraparound services, not the blame game, to help our kids.