This is the second entry of my school teacher series, telling the story of how a military veteran, failed rock and roller, and single dad became a successful inner-city schoolteacher.
This is a reboot of my second entry of my inner-city teaching series. This will become a book in the near future and I hope Steemit will help me strengthen this and prepare it for my co-writer and editor. Please comment if there is something you think I can elaborate on more, if you think I am missing the mark, or if you have a question.
Falling In Love With the Idea of Teaching
So as I thought more and more about things, the idea of teaching at Eastend School (remember this and all names are changed to protect the identities of my former students) was very appealing. During my time in the Coast Guard, I was the crewman who dealt with children. I loved being a father and children have a way of keeping you young. I was also very idealistic at the time; I wanted to inspire students with real history, not the sanitized versions that were on television. How little I really knew.
The Tuesday after my Saturday interview I visited the school. It was on the extreme end of the city and I was early. I sat in the office waiting for Mr. Solomon (the middle school Assistant Principal) to come down and take me upstairs. The school was designed with kindergarten through third grade on the ground floor and fourth through eighth upstairs. Fourth and fifth grades were on the extreme ends of the second floor and did not really interact much with the middle school students. As I was sitting in the office, I remember being greeted by everyone who came in the door. After a short wait Mr. Solomon took me upstairs.
I was asked to observe some classes, watch a class change and speak to some students. I visited several classrooms and was pretty astounded to see that the students were well behaved and orderly. Teachers were not traditional by any means, but they had their students’ attention. I watched several history classes and loved what I saw. It looked effortless, teachers were teaching and students were engaged. Looking back I was tricking myself. Just like when I was a child and I would see the Chinese acrobats, they made it look so easy. When I tried to replicate the moves of the Chinese acrobats in the yard, all I did was bump my head. But I am getting ahead of myself. Students were answering questions, asking about events and seemed truly interested. I remember in one class when students would answer a question correctly, the class would snap their fingers. I was charmed and I bought the whole package. I was not being tricked by anyone but myself. What I was seeing were master teachers plying their craft. They were that good at it. I will address it more later in the book.
Chaos In the Hallways
Class change was a different experience. It was pure pandemonium. The noise level was extreme. As a military veteran I have a pretty serious hearing loss. It was so loud I had to resort to reading lips, a skill I have yet to master. While the halls were noisy and the students animated, they were respectful of the adults. Many greeted me as they walked by and several stopped and introduced themselves to me, shaking my hand and making eye contact. I also noticed that the teachers stood at their doors, shaking hands with each student as they came into the classroom, briefly speaking with each one. That was the Eastend way; every student and adult is greeted with a firm handshake as they enter a room. The idea is to teach standard business practices, businesspeople greet each other before meetings. Eastend’s social structure was designed with the idea that it was the school’s job to prepare young people for the world of business. The other purpose behind greeting everyone at the door is that each student is individually recognized and spoken with, if they are having a bad day the teacher knows about it before class starts.
After class change I was taken into the Assistant Principal’s office and was asked to talk with several students. Interestingly, the students I spoke with were not the children who were stars but young men and women who were in trouble for various minor infractions. I asked them about their goals and the school. I wanted to know what they wanted from their teachers and how they liked them. None of the students had anything negative to say about the adults in the school. I found that interesting because an adult had written an incident referral to send them to the Assistant Principal to begin with. It was obvious to me that the students at the school liked it there. Most of the students I spoke with were in trouble for disrupting classes or doing something silly to someone else. There were no incidents that were not age appropriate.
After meeting with the students and getting a snapshot of what the culture was like, I met with the principal who asked me many questions about what I had seen and my thoughts based on those observations. He then scheduled another interview with me at the end of that week. When I came in a couple days later the principal explained that all staff additions were a two-part process. While he was a representative of the local public school system, there was a corporate entity that had to approve all new employees. I was now scheduled to interview with the founder of the school, the board of directors and the principal. I never really realized what was going on at the time, but I was being watched. While I thought that I was interviewing students, they were also interviewing me. Teachers in the classroom were watching me and were noting my interactions with their students. All of my time at Eastend was a giant interview.
The Corporate Interview
At the beginning of the corporate interview, the principal explained that he was guilty of meeting new teaching candidates and “falling in love with them,” oftentimes missing important details that may prevent them from being successful. From that point the school’s founder conducted the interview. He was direct and his questions were probing. He asked about my experiences in the military, what I experienced as a senior enlisted man in the military and what I thought about the educational levels of incoming recruits. I shared my disappointment in the reading and logic abilities of young military members and told him that the drop off between college students and incoming military members was inexcusable. We discussed the role of public education in the community and he asked about my spiritual life and health. I was asked about my family, my goals and my future in the educational profession. It was a shocking interview in light of the public school connections I knew were in place.
I never expected to be asked about my spiritual life. In hindsight, the founder of the school wanted people who were balanced and grounded. While the principal was expected to understand the teaching potential of his candidates, the founder wanted to ensure that the candidate had a moral basis for delivering the three part message the school was delivering. While there was no requirement that you attend church or that you even believed in a higher power, but you were expected to teach character and morals. Had I been a non-believer the interview would have gone another way, but I would have been quizzed about morality and virtue nonetheless. At the end of the interview I noted that everyone in the room shook my hand and made eye contact. I was beginning to get a feeling for the culture of the school. Monday morning I attended an orientation for new substitute teachers. That afternoon I had my first job. The principal of Eastend scheduled a meeting with me on Tuesday morning.
A Brief Reflection and A Bit of Preaching
Looking back in hindsight at all of this, I was truly out of my comfort zone. I had so much to learn. The school based its curriculum on teaching academics, morality and social skills. It was a system designed to fill in gaps that many students had because they were coming from families where parents or guardians were working hard to get by. The modern myth of America’s lower income neighborhoods is that of the “welfare queen.” While I have known adults who are living on welfare, none of them are doing well. In my experience welfare is a system that provides a subsistence living in exchange for dignity. Many of the parents I taught worked two or three jobs to stay off of welfare. When a single mother is working three jobs she is not home as much as she should be, so her children are not getting the life lessons they may need.
The other myth I have heard repeated over and over is that of the inner-city deadbeat father. I am sure there are a few out there. But I have met many men who are being locked out of their children’s lives. I have spoken with Dads that just wanted to peek into the window of the classroom door so they could see their child. I have had conferences with parents who want to know how their children are doing because they are unable to get that information from the other parent. There are many stories out there, but nothing is as sure as the modern American media makes it out to be.
In conclusion I will say this, I was being set up by my own expectations and romanticizing of what I thought teaching entailed. As a substitute, I was clueless. Substitute teaching’s connection to classroom teaching is as tenuous as is a go-kart’s connection to a high-end sports car. Yes, they both have four wheels, an engine and can take you down the road, but that is where the similarity ends. I was watching master teachers plying their craft, and I was years away from that level of teaching. I was setting myself up intellectually and was headed for a great fall.
Peace, love, and rock and roll,
Part 01 of the Series: Senior Chief to Substitute: Survival In the World of Inner-City Teaching
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Hello! I am Mike K. I am an educator, lifelong student, military vet and wannabe musician. I have a love of history, economics, philosophy and motorcycles. I am quickly moving from minarchy to Christian anarchy philosophically and want people to stop meddling. My debut CD should be out soon!
Riding in Tennessee with my son on the Green Eyed Snake