I spent half the day today at a high-risk high school. That is to say, the low-income high school my boyfriend teaches at. And I was so nervous. I teach 7 and 8 year old who barely come up to my hip. Two of them come up to my chest. Today I knew I’d be surrounded by bigger, older, tougher kids. But, kids nonetheless. So naturally I baked brownies.
And naturally, I got lost roaming the halls trying to find Mr. Smith’s classroom, a front office, anyone to point me in the right direction. Two police officers later and I was pointed in the right direction of the Health Science and Research Main Office.
The student working at the front desk knew who Mr. Smith was — she had him next period. She told me she really wanted to ask me a question but didn’t want to be rude. I told her to ask me anyway. She whispered, “Are you Mr. Smith’s girl?” I spent the next two hours blushing and smiling.
And while Max taught an economics lesson that was way over my head with mostly engaged 12th graders, I noticed the smile had faded from my face after hour 2. I caught myself as I walked up and down their rows. When I’d walk by, they’d hide their phones, make screens go blank, resume taking notes, and almost stop their conversations. Max was a slave to his whiteboard, furiously writing notes and problems, explaining content, going into new content, working inexhaustibly on teaching. He was teaching beautifully, he was working the students, he was engaging, he was dynamic.
But to this moment I don’t know if the students were learning.
“How did you know to do that?” Mr. Smith asked.
“Cuz of the formula,” replied the student at the board. “What is the formula?” he countered. And she told you it’s function — some xyz economic term that was, again, beyond me.
Maybe that was the point of the lesson. Maybe that’s the point of economics. But what did the student learn? Why we use that formula? Certainly she demonstrated what the formula was and how to use it. And that was the first of my scariest moments for the day.
Mr. Smith escorted me around the rest of the HSR hallway, I mingled and conversed with a variety of other students — all who were fascinated by the fact that teachers aren’t actually robots and actually might have lives after school! Who knew. I visited with Ms. German, Mr. Kosoff, Mr. Davis. I graded some of my own work for my own productivity’s sake.
A short period and bell ring later, we made our way to the auditorium. An assembly that consisted of pie-ing teachers and peer turned into a lecture on choices and teen pregnancy and drop out rates and “cooling” as school. My friends began rolling their eyes and simply said, “Welcome to Carver.” And I felt the feeling that took my smile again. Another one of my scariest moments.
I was scared by the statistics I was looking at. In the face, in the flesh.
On top of being towered over by 70% of the students I met.
On top of the students lingering in the doorways and halls not in the assembly.
And on top of the security guard who escorted me to my car.
Who then asked for my number.
And how different is that security guard than the guys in Mr. Smith’s class who jibed that they would “steal his girl” from him? When does it change?
Is this the future my students are looking at? Is this what happens next?
And with that realization, I recognized the feeling that wiped the smile from my face 2 hours after being at Carver.
Sadness. Despair. Is what I’m doing at my grade level going to influence them enough to sit quietly in the back and absorb as much as I can like the girl with the pretty red braids in Mr. Smith’s 3rd period? Or is this an inevitable? How many of my girls will make it to 12th grade without a baby? How many of my boys will make it to 12th grade without a criminal record?
I choked back tears on my car ride home. My next hurdle is telling this to Max honestly and tearlessly.