Tuesday, June 14, 2005

the first 83 pages

Today I read the first 83 pages of this story I've written about Douglass High School, and when I was reading I realized some things I didn't include the first time around. Like the fact that the first few weeks I was scared. I'm always scared in the beginning of every school year, scared I might not have what it takes anymore to make it happen, so there was that. But there was also the other fears, that I'd been fooling myself, that I didn't know what I was doing, that I was out of my league. I saw every day hundreds of kids who do not live in my world. My son used to say that the way I say hello to strangers is disarming (that is, causes people to put their weapons and defenses down), but I didn't see that manifesting in the halls of Douglass. Straight to the point, I was one of a handful of Caucasian people in the school of probably, at that time, including teachers, administrators, staff, various workers, 1000 souls. I know so deeply about how we're all humans with the same deep fears and joys, but the surface situation was daunting. I am white. Almost everyone at school is black. The photographs in the news of young men who were killed or killing, I saw faces like those kids' in the halls at Douglass all day long. And when I say I wasn't scared, I wasn't scared of them, I was only scared that I'd gotten into something way over my head. I was scared that I would never be effectual at Douglass. I did believe that if I could only get a group in my room and lock the door that something beautiful could happen, but every time the bell rang and I knew I had to face the halls, and the intruders, and the loudness and crudeness and hostility, it was hard. I wasn't scared of being hurt. I thought it could happen in fact, but I wasn't scared of it. I was scared that I would never be heard. I was scared that I would never be enough of a presence or a force to stand at the hallway door and turn kids back, that they'd just push through, push me aside. I was actually worse than a nobody at first. I was a white nobody.
I guess I couldn't write all this in the beginning because I was so intent on keeping up my courage, and so had to keep my fears to myself. But I see that it's a hole in the story, one that only I know, and it doesn't seem honest of me not to say.
I also read about the day the ceiling fan fell on the girl (one month into my school year). I'd written in my journal a lot that day. It was one of those days that ought to go down in my history as a teacher as a great day, one of the greatest, and then the ceiling fan fell and the great day got thrown out. It was good for me to remember that before that happened it had been beautiful.
There have been so many murders in the city lately. I'm afraid now that I'll see one of those faces I love in the paper one day. Something I recognize is that mug shots make people look more like criminals than they really look like in normal life. That's something I learned this year. I know many a beautiful child with dreadlocks whose picture in the paper would make him look like a monster. It's a very important thing for me to have learned. I wish everyone could learn it.



Anonymous Cassandra said...

Ms. Plesh - I'm full of questions again... so I here I go.

Looking back, how do you think these fears impacted your teaching and your communication with your students in the beginning? Did your fears ever control you or your classroom in ways that you now wish they hadn't or now believe could have been prevented if the fear had not been there?

How have your fears helped you or hindered you - look specifically into how they have helped you. If they haven't helped you, then look into that. Did you ever completely get over your fears? If so, which ones did you conquer and which ones still lingered around through the entire experience. Did you fears change?

What do you think your student's fears were by having you as their teacher? How do you their fears of you impacted their performance? How do you believe your fears were communicated or not communicated to your students and how did the possible knowledge of your fears to your students impact their performance?

Every teacher is going to have fears. Do you believe, looking back, that you fears were unfounded based on the knowledge and experiences you had up to that point? Do you believe that your fears at that time were any different than any other person placed in a similar situation to yours? How do you believe some of the fears could have been prevented? Would reading or investigating or researching or volunteering or living in their neighborhoods or working with this population of students helped or hindered your development of the fears? Is there any way to lower your development of fears before entering a new classroom at a new school?

7:31 AM  
Blogger Makenzi said...

you're still my hero.

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

where are you now? You are an amazing teacher & more of an amazing person. Don't let us down now!

10:53 PM  
Blogger melanie said...

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11:14 PM  
Blogger coolhand222 said...

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7:26 PM  

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