Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Baker or Brawler?

Yesterday I was at a school for at-risk children. Upon arrival, the students were cued up outside in the frigid winter weather taking off their shoes in preparation to pass through the check point metal detector. Although the guard did not know me, I was spared being frisked, bypassed the metal detector, and was ushered into the school without presenting credentials or even being asked the purpose of my visit. So much for not prejudging the appearance of a white man in a suit.

My job was to train a 19 year veteran of the school, we'll call her Grace, on an educational software application. Grace is amazingly caring and patient with all her students and they return her kindness with respect.

The scene was surreal. Doors were locked at all times and physically imposing staff members patroled the halls to keep the peace. Intermittent outbursts of profanity, door slamming, and locker banging could be clearly heard from the halls.

At one juncture, a rapping came at the door and in bounded an extremely happy and equally proud student, Larry, who is in his senior year. He had just finished baking a pan of delicious smelling brownies and was eager to have Grace try one. Larry then turned to me smiling and asked "Sir, would you care to try a fresh baked brownie? I made them myself!"

I was suddenly torn away from the brownie and brought back to the harsh reality of the environment these disadvantaged kids were struggling to succeed in. There was screaming from the hall. A male student and a female student had gotten into a fist fight resulting in bloody lips for both.

I thought about my own kids and how they complain about their upper middle class school. About ther supportive community, student groups, and stable home environment.
And then my thoughts returned to the woman who had been toiling away for nearly two decades, working tirelessly to get students to grow in a disruptive and oft times dangerous environment.

There were about four other students in the lab. Grace and I were working on reports and at first did not recognize the altercation between Larry and another student. It escalated to a shouting match and before Grace could react they were fighting in the hall. I followed Grace out as she gamely tried to break them up. Other teachers were watching from their classrooms but doing nothing to assist. Grace was knocked to the floor as Larry got the upper hand on his antagonizer and began to mercilessly punch him in the face. I had seen enough, I grabbed Larry and pulled him off the other student. Grace yelled at the teachers watching to please help. They did not.

Soon the muscle arrived and the two boys were led away. Grace and I returned to our work and after a moment, she looked up at me and quietly said, "I suppose you won't want to come back here anymore". I reassured her as I thought to myself, if I want to make a difference, here is exactly where I need to be.

How do we close the achievement gap?
The gap in socio-economic status?
And developing digital divide?

Is this a job for education? Grace is on the floor calling for help...
Who will answer the call?


Cheryl said...

thanks for sharing and reminding us why we're in education!

Pub Ed said...

We, as educators, have been chosen to cure the inequities inherently present overtime in a meritocracy based society. The question is....
Are we up to the challenge?
The last century would indicate no
Can this century be different?
I say YES.