August 28, 2013
Mark this as one of my most frustrating days as an educator. The last of my students left campus 4 hours ago, and I have just calmed down enough to begin writing today’s post.
Ungrateful, that is the word I would use to describe my students. I wish the English language could provide me with a stronger adjective, as ungrateful seems too mild and its’ synonyms don’t quite hit the mark.
With the exception of my teaching stint in Abu Dhabi, all of my teaching positions have been with schools in which the student population was racially diverse. Although predominantly Hispanic, my students include African Americans and just a few Caucasians. These are the schools in which I have always wanted to teach. I, myself, do not remember any of my teachers ever being Hispanic, and certainly I have been one of only a very, small handful of Mexican teachers on any of the school’s faculties in which I have worked. Not many Hispanic, role model teachers where I’ve been teaching.
One of the many reasons I choose to work with my people, if you will, is that overall, the Hispanic dropout rate across the nation is the highest of any race and/or ethnicity. In part, I went into teaching to stymie that dangerous trend. When I graduated from college in 2000, the Hispanic dropout rate was hovering near 28%. Well, dear Readers, isn’t it just like me to run into the tempest instead of away from it?
Throughout the past 13 years, very little has changed with regard to my teenage students’ attitudes. In a word, they are ungrateful (again, not a strong enough word). And not only have they been ungrateful, they are the embodiment of laissez faire. No one is ever going to accuse my students of actively intervening to prevent the dropout rate from taking its’ own course. Sigh. I have my job cut out for me.
Fast forward to today, dear Readers, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in which Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. And today, of all days, my students were particularly lazy and slothful. All it took for me to come unglued, was for one of my students to say, for the umpteen time, “Miss, why do we hafta do this? You know we don’t care.”
Surprisingly, I did not come unglued. But rather, I put a plan into action. I have faced churlish students before, and I have used the following method to try and knock some sense into their ungrateful minds. I just don’t know if it was enough, or will ever be enough.
Let me preface this by saying that I asked and received the consent of my Caucasian students before attempting the following. As my students began to whine and moan about having to actually work in my class, I told them I had devised a new seating plan. I rearranged the students so that all of my students of color were seated in the back of the room and my Caucasian students were in the front row. I began to teach the day’s lesson, oddly enough, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. As I was speaking, my voice would get lower so that only the students in the front row were able to hear me. When I would choose students to answer a question, I would choose students from the back of the room, knowing they had not heard either the question or the lesson. When the students could not respond appropriately, I would beret them. I would then ask students in the front row to answer and whether or not they could answer correctly, I would heap praise upon them. In addition, I would compare my front row students to my back row students, and the back row students, the students of color, always fell short.
For the first 15 minutes or so of the lesson, my students of color fought me insofar as my unfair treatment of them was concerned. I simply fought back. I continued to give my front row students, my Caucasian students, preferential treatment. By the time I was 20 minutes into my lesson, my students of color were all but silent; they were defeated. At that point, as I knew I had everyone’s undivided attention, I said something like the following, “How dare any of you take your education for granted. How dare any of my students of color throw away their education. 50 years ago, people of all races came together and fought, in part, so that students of color would be afforded the same opportunities as white students. And just look at how ungrateful you are. Do you think that 50 years ago, you would have been able to obtain a decent education with your entitled attitude? Do you think you would have been allowed anywhere near a school? I am ashamed of my students in the back right now. And I am especially saddened that mi hermanos y hermanas have decided that they do not need what I have to offer them. People fought, died, and were jailed just so you could sit in these seats and make a better life for yourself. And how do you repay them? You spit on their memory. ” I went on to explain to the students that, yes, in fact there was a time in which some teachers paid very little attention to students of color. And when those same teachers were forced to engage students of color, it was more often than not, to admonish them. I speak from experience, dear Readers.
Did my students “get” the lesson I was trying to teach them? I’m not quite sure. I’d like to believe that every time I have taught this lesson, that my students walked away with a greater appreciation of their education. But, eh, who knows? Maybe that’s just false hope; me tilting at windmills. But, at least I am in good company. Like Don Quixote, I, too am trying to restore order and purpose to an otherwise tumultuous world. And maybe, just maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Witness, when I began teaching, the Hispanic dropout rate was nearing 28%. Thirteen years in the trenches, and the figure is now down to 15%. Orale! Peace, ~v.