Words are…Power!

WORDS ARE….POWER

    This call-and-response begins class every single day in F114. I impress upon my students that I love my job because literacy is the heart of life. If you do not have a working literacy, you are forced to believe everything you hear. Without the ability to read, analyze, and check sources, my students must take everything I tell them at face value; and while I would never intentionally lie to them, there are plenty in this world who are less scrupulous with the truth.

    At the heart of students’ success is a working literacy. OCHEM, Fluid Mechanics, Intro to Statistics, World Geography, Government – all of these courses are based on a working written language. This fact is highlighted in border schools, where ESL students comprise the vast majority of the student population. The success of each students can largely be predicted by that student’s literacy. Additionally, Mexican culture was a primarily oral culture until just a few years ago, and still many parents and their children do not prize the capacity to mark and interpret black strikes on white pulp.

    Which brings me to the subject at hand. The national push to “modernize” our educational system can be summed up in a dark anecdote published by Time Magazine.

Rip Van Winkle awakens in the 21st century after a hundred-year snooze and is, of course, utterly bewildered by what he sees. Men and women dash about, talking to small metal devices pinned to their ears. Young people sit at home on sofas, moving miniature athletes around on electronic screens. Older folk defy death and disability with metronomes in their chests and with hips made of metal and plastic. Airports, hospitals, shopping malls–every place Rip goes just baffles him. But when he finally walks into a schoolroom, the old man knows exactly where he is. “This is a school,” he declares. “We used to have these back in 1906. Only now the blackboards are green.” [“How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century” Dec. 10, 2006]

 

The past few years of NCLB have seen the American education system throwing millions of dollars to “technologize” its neediest schools. A week after Amazon.com released its revolutionary Kindle ebook system, some may be signing the death warrant of paperback books and their inclusion in our educational system. Grants abound for electronic funding and computer purchases, and private backers love to revolutionize and modernize needy schools (as opposed to buying them 500 books 1/10 the cost).

    Currently, border schools such as the one in which I teach subscribe to 3-5 different computer literacy programs aimed at different student populations. They also “utilize” at least that many test-preparation programs for reading. Many schools have SmartBoards in every class, several boast ELMO’s, and virtually every school is equipped with the bare necessities of their thousand-dollar LCD projectors. Still, however, at the end of the day, my particular school, like many other schools, lacks the capacity to provide books for its students. IN my particular case, I can only supply books for one of my 5 classes. Our school houses only 60 copies of Romeo and Juliet, despite the fact that all 900 freshman are required to read it each year.

    In the well-intentioned hope of modernizing, we are are neglecting the very heart of literacy – personal, private, independent reading. It is good and well if a students can interpret words in a movie or HTML, but they must also be able to glean information from a single sheet of pressed wood. Nothing can replace the physical joy of breaking in the spine of a new book, of completing that last page, of conquering a book, of downing your first full novel.

    At best, these technological frills are good supplements. Our students will not learn reading if they are never enabled to have reading homework. I have printed 100 copies of Huckleberry Finn from the amazing Project Gutenberg for my students, just so that they could interact with the text and take it home to read independently. I have also utilized a grant to purchase a book for every single one of my students to read and keep. For some, it was the first book they had ever read; the book took on new meaning as a trophy for them and, quite often, for their family. And by entrusting students with their own books, we as educators are teaching them personal responsibility and independence. The excuse that books are old-fashioned, costly, or unnecessary will not hold true unless there are no more books at all. The excuse that technology is the future is based off the implied fact that students possess basic literacy. With increased access to text but decreased literacy skills, our students can never hope to succeed in today’s world.

Words are Power.

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Rio Grande Valley Tactical Infrastructure EIS Document Response, or The Difference between 1907 and 2007

    2007 marks the centennial of the United States’ peak year of immigration. 1907 marked a year where, despite awful discrimination against Asians in the ongoing Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the introduction of the Japanese Gentleman’s Agreement, America drew well over a million to its shores to participate in our thriving economy. The centennial of that year finds a very different attitude towards immigration in the polis of America. With the inhibitive and overly restrictive immigration laws and lottery system, we have no real concept of how many migrants, sojourners, asylum-seekers, refugees, and visa over-stayers “immigrated” this year. We do, however, know that some 12 million extralegal citizens currently reside in the continental United States, as defined by the Mexican-American War; in addition to these teeming extralegals, there are millions of other Americans complicit in this immigrant labor and success in our nation.

    While positive, concrete immigration reforms stalled in a staunchly partisan triumvirate political system last year, the only significant immigration legislation in recent years is the Secure Fence Act of 2006. This legislation is slowly, imperceptibly creeping along the Mexican-American border, attempting to replace the natural Rio Grande with the inefficacious Muro Grande. the 538-page U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report entitled “Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Construction, Maintenance, and Operation of Tactical Infrastructure Rio Grande Valley Sector, Texas,” detailing the border barrier and its efforts was just published to the public this past week. Having read these words with an eye to its impact on my own backyard of Brownsville, Texas, it appears to be a shameless show of smoke and mirrors. The purported aim of this barrier, in keeping with the same goals of this present administration which has already brought us to the desert of Iraq and the shores of Cuba, is first and foremost to counter terrorism, presumably being trucked across our Southern border as you read this. In addition, though, the border wall is also supposed to deter drugs (to help our healthy black market “just say no”) and stymie the flow of illegal immigrants in ways that legislative reform cannot.

    Preexistent in this lengthy document, however, is its own unstated downfall. The document brings up token dissent as a means of disproving “all” alternatives to a border wall stretching some 70 miles through the Rio Grande Valley and up to 700 miles along the entire border, but the criticism undoubtedly ricochets back at the wall. The report states that a natural hedge would slow crossings and promote nature, but that it regrettably would not be a foolproof deterrent and would need constant reparations. Such criticism could be directed at the border wall itself. Its staunchest supporters admit it will do littler more than slow down illegal crossings. The report itself states that, because the wall is not continuous, it will probably just shift illegal activity to other, arguably more treacherous, crossing zones.

    The document also proposes that the wall is a “force multiplier” to aid in stopping immigration. Intriguingly, this has been the rallying cry for American businesses so desirous of cheap immigrant labor. Additionally, this report ignores the fact that providing more legal means to citizenship, as opposed to vindictive threats of deportation and Catch-22 scenarios for extralegal aliens already here, would do more to reduce illegal immigration. Just as providing CHIP and family assistance does not serve as an incentive for the impoverished to have illegitimate children, neither will this sort of immigration reform open up the door to illegal immigrants. Rather, it will provide a way and means for qualified individuals to forgo a cruel lottery system in order to officially enter the ranks of the Americans they work alongside already.

    The border wall espoused in this document, replete with its treatment of dissent, is politically little more than a token gesture that both Republicans and Democrats are “tough on immigration,” though hardheaded and medieval in their means. Tokenism is, as Martin Luther King, Jr. writes in his “Bold Design for a New South,”

not only…a useless goal, but…a genuine menace. It is a palliative which relieves emotional distress, but leaves the disease and its ravages unaffected. It tends to demobilize and relax the militant spirit which alone drives us forward to real change.

Socially, ethically, morally, and economically, the Secure Fence Act which is now being treated as inevitable, is a negative, self-defeating gesture which will cripple our workforce, legislate nativism, forgo and delay meaningful immigration reform, and sap precious resources from our nation’s poorest. This wall will brutalize the fragile ecosystem and cultural legacy of La Frontera and will set up a racially-suspicious immigration which leads heavily in favor of Western European countries with its emphasis on numbers, irregardless of population size. This lengthy literary exercise in bureaucracy will soon disappear in the vaults of the Library of Congress, but if we erect a barrier in this Western Hemisphere and ignore real legislative reform for immigration, its legacy will be that of 1924 and 1882, rather than that of 1907, the biggest year yet in immigration. Future generations will peer inquisitive at our contemporary history, befuddled by the ways in which a country so in love with globalizing technology and overseas production could be so obstinately opposed to a globalizing populace.

Role Models

    Teaching 99% Mexican-Americans, I keep coming back to the same role models in my motivational investment lessons: Cesar Chavez (1927-1993), Corky Gonzales (1928-2005), Dolores Huerta (1930-present). While Dolores is 77 and still speaking publicly, most of the other true role models for my Mexican-American students are dead or less than ideal. The first Latino Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, resigned under a flurry of less-than-honorable allegations this September. Few movies, songs, or other media sources depict Mexican-Americans as anything more triumphant than good workers of low-wage jobs.

    If heroes are supposed to model roles for our children, the roles being modeled today in the Latino community are those of ultra-sexed chicas, the drug runners of narcocorridos, the gang members of inner cities, the toiling migrant laborers in America’s fields. Education is seen as unnecessary or superfluous for any of the roles currently being modeled in America’s Latino experience.

    Obviously Latinos are capable of more than these stereotyped roles, and they often have risen above the odds to achieve truly successful careers. However, the fact remains that Latinos, and specifically Mexican-Americans, have an atrocious drop-out rate nationally. The cycle repeats itself when students, lacking highly-educated role models, drop out of high school to perpetuate another generation of un-education.

    In his book Where Do We Go From Here, Martin Luther King, Jr., writes about another racial minority that,

In two national polls to name the most respect Negro leaders, out of the highest fifteen, only a single political figure, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, was included and he was in the lower half of both lists. This is in marked contrast to polls in which white people choose their most popular leaders; political personalities are always high on the lists and are represented in goodly numbers…”

King notes here that all groups have their role models; the difference, therein, lies in the quality and the influential positions of these role models.

    For Mexican-American youths, it is often difficult to name a singly influential Latino who is working to enact change in the nation they inhabit. That inevitably leads to apathy, a defeatist mentality, and a resignation to the current status quo expectations for Mexican-Americans. We must do our best to herald true heroes in the Latino community, as we also work hard to prepare our students to become the role models Mexican-Americans so need.

Published in: on November 15, 2007 at 7:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Objects at Rest

    Some days at school, a teacher feels like a car colliding with an oak tree. Our job is easy, or at least easier, when we are educating and mentoring students already active in sports, the community, their churches, or their homes. The students which give teachers, schools, and communities the hardest time are those students at rest. This sums up the nationwide educator’s complaint of apathy at its worst.

    How does one move an object at rest? As a teacher, we exploit any prime motivators in our students’ lives in an effort to get them moving towards successful learning. But when a student lacks coaches, involved parents, spiritual advisors, or an employer, there is little to nothing a teacher can do to lever them. Intrinsic motivation such as grades and “self-respect” only influence someone who is interested in change or motion.

    This sentiment is present to some extent at all schools. A border school, however, and specifically a school in the poorest border city in the United States, has these motionless drifters in ample abundance. The students who must be the most motivated in order to succeed are often the most listless and defeated. Some of this is because they have been discouraged in the past, beaten down by authority figures and offered little prospects of succeeding.

     However, some of this has to be the environment in which they live. The border is a unique area of the United States, no doubt. It is the home to huddled masses waiting for their loved ones to one day cross the border. La frontera is an alternate reality, where Spanish and English and Spanglish all are legitimate and equally useful in all contexts, public and private. The border is poor, and the economics of poverty can be seen in the gaudy show of “wealth” through bling, cars on credit, stereos, and designer clothes. Many of the border’s residents do not have the means, whether legal or economic, to head north, and slowly that desire ebbs away from them. As a result, they are content to live in their parents’ house until they marry at 35, content to endure a minimum-wage job, satisfied to live and function in a largely illiterate or literary-neutral location.

    How, then, does a teacher ignite dreams in students which are not there? Is it even right, to light fires under students which may only burn them and their families? I sit at my laptop drinking coffee, clutching my Protestant work ethic and my hopes and dreams, wondering if it is ethical for me to foist them upon my students, if I even can. Perhaps a teacher’s job is twofold: 1.) to teach every student to varying extents; 2.) to give those students who seem destined for more the means to achieve something outside their environment.

    Through all this, it becomes painfully clear that a teacher never teaches a class; we can only ever teach students.

Veteran’s Day

The organ mimics marching feet, the harmonized singing echoes the call and response of orders and assent. The five verses summon up images of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq I and II. How clean and pure and melodic it must be for angels to wage war singing songs like this, songs that sing like peacetime parades but conjure up allusions to the battlefield.

Veteran’s Day falls but a week after All Saint’s Day. What uneasy company! The one is to celebrate all those who have died, died working and loving and waiting and worshiping. The other celebrates all those who have rushed laughing and mistaken to the plunge of bullets, deeming their cause righteous enough to kill for, judging their salary a mandate of the people and their victory divine right.

Perhaps instead we should remember all those who we’ve killed in the name of war. There can be no other cause for war than war, and we have certainly killed more than our fair share of the opposition, whether that enemy opposed us or our economy or our friends’ economies.

Like many congregations around the nation, a Methodist church in Brownsville struggles with the Veteran’s Day holiday every year. Inevitably the large cadre of veterans want military songs and salutes, while those who hold Jesus’ message of peace cringe at the thought of a militarized church zone. The same dispute waged years ago over the three flagpoles outside. Many wanted the American flag to fly above the Texas flag and the Christian flag, but many complained, some because they though Christ should be overall, a few who thought Texas should be tallest.

The myth of redemptive violence is alive and well in churches who still speak war rhetoric. There can be no vanquishing of evil, because it is people who commit evil deeds. To vanquish evil is to unconscionably vanquish those individuals who oppose our position, thereby making us evil and vile and worthy or violent retaliation. The cycle goes on and on, with the church’s crusade banner marching on at the forefront.

If the Christian church is to take serious its role in healing the nations, it must recall all hymns which equate holy wars with Calvary. Redemptive violence is not sacrificial love – one invokes suffering on oneself, the other inflicts it upon any who oppose it. This imagery, contrary to some beliefs, is not necessary nor bedrock to the Christian faith. For years we Christians have been slack in our acceptance of war rhetoric. The late Kurt Vonnegut scathingly accused his fellow fiction writers of taking the easy way out by having the good guy kill the bad guy in the end. He writes,

I want to apologize for all of us. We have ended so many of our stories with gunfights, with showdowns and death, and millions upon millions of simpletons have mistaken our stories for models of modern living. We have ended our stories with showdowns so often because we’re so lazy. Gunplay is no way to live – but it is a peachy way to end a tale. (“Address at Rededication of Wheaton College Library, 1973”)

The same sad statement could be leveled at the church, though we have even less excuse than a capitalistic storyteller. Every time Christians support a war, we are admitting that God’s followers are unwilling either to follow his teachings or too impatient to work at the peaceful solution. Every time we give in to violence, we are espousing the dangerous belief that Jesus’s Good News of peace and love does not apply to all men everywhere the same.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was often frustrated with the churches of his time. He saw countless Christians talking about love but then keeping mum about the injustices of segregation and the immorality of Vietnam. In his famous book, Where do we go from here?, he writes,

Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases …Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

All too often, we Christians forget that we serve Jesus, the man of sorrows, the Savior who saved by becoming a living sacrifice, a martyr. How can we go on supporting “righteous” violence any longer?

The church is best when it counterbalances and opposes the state. It should provide the moral conscience of our 3-party system; it should be the fourth party, mores so than the media. Instead, we have allied ourselves with soldiers in a time that needs no encouragement for warring. It is high time we took Jesus’ brave stance against violence and began working on problems themselves rather than attacking those who might oppose us. The gospel of peace speaks for itself when it is lived out in earnest.

Published in: on November 12, 2007 at 7:28 am  Leave a Comment  

The Quest for Quality Quarreling

     Quakers know how to quarrel. Perhaps that is how they can be pacifists. According to a good brother of mine, Friends table their disputes until the next day of the meeting (every meeting is more than one day). If the dispute still exists, then the two Friends at odds participate in Two Men Standing. This involves standing beside each other for hours in silence, usually in a very public place. One person eventually cracks or comes up with a compromise/solution, and the dispute is solved without violence and without bitterness.

     If it’s one thing our country’s politics need, it’s civil discourse. Barack Obama has repeatedly voiced his stance for civil discourse, and to the extent that he and other candidates have engaged in such discussion throughout their campaigns, our nation has seen a much more respectful campaign trail. While it is important that our politicians civilly disagree, it is even more vital that we as Americans discuss common issues with respectful dialogue. “Illegal alien,” “welfare queen,” and “terrorist” are all incendiary terms which do little to progressively engage the issue but do much to inflame opinions and summon the worst in human biases. Lou Dobbs, I hesitate to mention his name for fear he might use it for further publicity, is solving our nation’s disputes about as well as a border wall will resolve our border insecurities. Such bombastic hate-speech separates us from our neighbors much more than a border wall, and it further discriminates those legal immigrants from the countries which have been targeted as chief senders (ex. Mexico).

    People are people, and to peg them as issues is to divest them of their sanctity. Civil discourse does not judge an entire race or gender or subculture on the actions of a single individual. Civil discourse does not try to beat one’s opponent but seeks eventual harmony between both sides. I wonder if shock speakers like Lou Dobbs would take up my challenge and stand beside me outside the U.N. Building in New York, agreeing to wait in silence until we had some words of peace and reconciliation for each other. Our country, I think, could do more with these standing disagreements than with a standing army.

Published in: on November 10, 2007 at 9:43 pm  Comments (2)  

We do not need illegal immigrants…

     Talk to any economist or realist, and they will assuredly agree that immigrant labor has made our country what it is and sustains our current economy. Controlling all other variables, if our nation were to cease all immigration or deport all 12 million illegal immigrants, our economy would plummet, our businesses bankrupt, our social security system crumple. We need immigrants; to deny this is to deny America.

     However, we do not need illegal immigrants. There are two ways to supply our businesses and nation with the necessary masses of low-skilled, low-paid workers. One way is our current system of hiring illegal immigrants at a fraction of the cost or employing those on worker visas. This works for us, but at the sake of suspending millions of people’s rights and welfare. Additionally, it perpetuates the influx of illegal immigrants into our nation.

      There is another way, however. If the United States opens up its doors to immigrants in a graduated fashion and allows its current extralegal immigrants to apply for citizenship, we will be inviting a replenishable, legal, documented workforce of higher caliber at still basement wages. Legal immigrants are still highly underpaid for their expertise, and their discounted labor costs will add to our economy; the prime difference, however, is that legal immigrants have the potential and the hope to progress. Contrary to illegal immigrants, newly immigrated citizens can one day hope to work out of low-paying jobs, to unionize, to receive education, to raise a family, to save money, to utilize health-care, to pay taxes and insurance.

Newly immigrated citizens are upwardly mobile individuals starting out on the bottom rung of capitalism; illegal immigrants, however, are locked in the basement of an America which espouses equality. To perpetuate our current stagnation on the immigration issue is to condemn millions of would-be Americans to an inescapable catch-22, caught between the economic necessity of American wages and the absence of human rights bestowed upon our legal citizens. Our nation does not need illegal immigrants, but it does need those people who are on the other side of our current immigration laws and quotas to possess the means for citizenship and become productive, publicly active citizens and workers. We must radically rethink and restructure our immigration laws to legalize hard-working Americalmosts.

Badges of Citizenship

     At the end of the first movie to feature color photography, a certain “cowardly” lion gets a badge of courage and feels filled with bravery. Anyone watching The Wizard of Oz, though, realizes that he has become courageous throughout the entire movie, and that this ceremony is little more than fanfare to celebrate who he already is.

     Working in a high school on the Mexican-American border, I am surrounded by students caught in the immigration process. For one, he waited ten years to finally get approved and win the lottery for citizenship this past December. Another student has already been told by the United States government that he is a desirable applicant but must wait until he wins his place as one of the measly 26,000 Mexicans allowed to legally enter our country each year. And then there’s your high-honors student, involved in extracurriculars and volunteering, who is anxiously waiting to hear whether her September application for citizenship has been accepted.

     Those opposed to granting even partial amnesty to extralegal immigrants in the United States are missing a vital point. Providing illegal residents a means and a hope for legalization does not change who they are intrinsically any more than the Cowardly Lion’s badge made him courageous. For these people it would be a means to greater opportunity, yes, but opportunities for which their studies and work ethic were already prepared. Students who have successfully exited ESL programs, families who are working together to stay off welfare, individuals who are paying taxes through their employer’s reduced wages – all of these people will simply be validated, legalized, and given the means to contribute further to our community.

     An “earned” amnesty initiative would assure that only people who are already acting like responsible citizens would be granted citizenship. The vast majority of the 12 million extralegal immigrants are precisely these sorts of individuals and families, American in everything but name. A piece of paper does not change their morality, their ethics, their talents, their life, their liberty, or their pursuit of happiness – a piece of paper simply ensures that they can fully participate in our democracy and are afforded the rights citizens take for granted. The small percentage of immigrants who do not work towards an earned amnesty are the types of individuals who should be the focus of aggressive national security measures; these measures become feasible only when the number of “lawbreakers” is converted to a manageable number.

     Our country’s cities, restaurants, schools, fields, factories, and economy are buoyed by 12 million individuals who contribute their talents and ideas to our nation of immigrants. The best way to secure our borders, to effectively budget social security and welfare, to maximize worker output, and o encourage each American to strive for his/her very best is to enable some form of earned amnesty in an effort affirm the decision so many immigrants have already made – to work, to study, to be active in the community, to be American.

Guy Fawke’s Day

Guy Fawke’s Day comes to a close uneventfully in America’s borderland. The British have burned thousands of effigies today to commemorate a man who attempted to demolish Parliament and was hanged by King James I, also the commissioner of the most popular Biblical translation to date. Watch V for Vendetta and am filled with vim and vigor for change, but I cannot help but be skeptical at the violent means V uses to bring about drastic change with uncertain future ramifications. This is the nonviolent scholar in me.

 

As an English major, all my classmates had their area of expertise pegged out by sophomore year. This one used Marx to critique everything from fables to ballads, this one took a feminist view take on Shakespeare, another opted for the Freudian analysis of memoirs. It would have been easier for me to choose one of these; as it was, each critique could be radically different than the others and I had little basis for analysis besides my own young ramblings.

 

If I had it over again, I would opt to be a nonviolent scholar, examining the ways in which nonviolence is sissy-fied and violence, particularly redemptive violence, is still applauded in our popular culture. Despite its efficacy in the 1960s, few people truly believe nonviolence is the option of the brave realist in today’s world. Nonviolence is synonymous with passivity rather than active pacifism. True, thousands of movies would never have been made without the vigilante justice model, or the heroic knight archetype, or the crusading revolutionary role. My essays would stress, however, just how different the world might be if the Academy Award went to a film whose characters eschewed special effects and elaborate fight scenes to instead focus on the redemptive power of a means which justifies the end.

 

Nonviolence, as it were, has lost its academia. It is not taught but for a few token references to King’s “I have a dream” speech.  University professors tend to focus on fringe topics (such as lesbian haiku or neo-Gothic comedies), because it is easier to carve out a niche for themselves in the publish-or-perish competition of academia.  And yet nonviolence is the single best critic of our current culture and its self-defeating militaristic mindset. I wish I could go back and write 10-page papers detailing how nonviolence, or the lack of nonviolence, changes the outcome and plots of every story. Perhaps then, through my academia and studies, I could impart something more than just one more critical voice, a voice we all acquire at college though without the tools of creation.

 

Guy Fawke’s is a fantastic myth about a man who hoped to change his country’s religion in a violent manner. Although he is dead and and his effigy burned every single year, people keep carrying on his spirit of violent defiance and armed resistance. Though it makes for great screenplay, would it have been possible if he hadn’t planned a demolition? Nonviolent scholarship would say yes, that the means must match the ends, that it is ludicrous to hope to bring about peace through violence. If only the proletariat had read this sort of scholarship in their mandatory English classes…

Part Teacher, Part Mentor

     It is the fate of all educators to come across those students who put teacherly ideals to the test. For first-year teachers wanted to make a genuine difference in every child’s life, it can be frustrating and job-ending to realize that not every student is going to make significant gains in the classroom that year. Students who come but once a week, or who are tardy more often than not, or who transfer late in the year, or who are so far behind they cannot realistically pass their grade-level’s state test – all of these students can be overwhelming when one is truly working day in and day out to teach one’s subject.

      And then there are those students, the ones we we educators do not miss when they are gone. Those students, the children that sleep on a good day and cause ruckus and insurrection in a normal period. Such students seem unfazed by discipline, straight talks, or exciting lesson plans. No matter how many calls home or referrals or verbal warnings or praises or rewards or motivations, these students seem bound and determined to get nothing from our classes.

      Yet that is where we teachers sell ourselves short by measuring our success by a book or a test. At the end of the day, we are equal parts mentor and instructor, role model and educator. And that is how Kourtney (name changed) taught me a lesson. Be it grammar or ghost story, Kourtney just didn’t seem interested in anything more than chatting it up with her friends or attracting the eyes of a male passerby. As a ninth-grader, she had all the emotional maturity of a 2nd grader. I struggled to not give her the negative attention she seemed to crave, but it is tough when students like her offer so little opportunity for positive praise.

      Kourtney had a 20% and seemed to be proud of it. But even though she had missed every major assignment in our six-week grading period, she still faithfully came to every volunteer activity we held. She seemed to come alive helping other people, in a way that she did not in the class. She was curious and almost empathetic. Kourtney seemed more mature outside the classroom (maybe a 4th grader), and she genuinely seemed interested in serving our community.

     That was my epiphany – perhaps it was not my job to teach Kourtney run-on sentences and vocabulary words this year. Maybe my job was not teach her to recognize fragment sentences but help her piece together the fragments of her broken home as she reached out in service to others. If I can just show her the positive power of service as laid out in the Bible, in Martin Luther King, Jr., and college handbooks, maybe I could be a teacher who began to make a difference. I felt a peace, not the peace in giving up on a child but the serenity of realizing one’s role in another person’s life.

Published in: on November 4, 2007 at 6:13 pm  Leave a Comment