I almost walked out yesterday.
I have never taught somewhere and felt the urge to just grab my belongings and leave…I am not a quitter, but I am not a masochist either!
I looked around the pandemonium of what was doubling as a “class” and “students”…and I just could not take any more of the loud noise (louder than a seven-year-old’s birthday party at ChuckE Cheese), I could not take anymore of the “chemical warfare” (students repeatedly spraying perfume in the air), I could not take any more of the extreme disruptive behavior (students yelling obscenities, hitting each other, mocking each other, the extreme horseplay, and NEVER doing any work)…everything is a joke to them!
I hated them ALL! Then…I went by the Spanish teacher’s room; there’s something about that woman that always puts me in a better mood…she has a wonderful way with the kids and her humor is as dry as the Sahara (my kinda gal)…so I went by for a little escapism. We discussed the ins-and-outs of making churros (very intellectual) until a former student of hers stopped by to visit.
I had never noticed her before; she was one of our school’s up and coming 2008 graduates…she looked twelve! I mean…seriously! Sometimes, the seniors don a superficial “look” of maturity, but this young lady did not.
“I don’t think I’m going to be able to go to prom,” she stated rather matter-of-factly to La Professora. She didn’t sound all angsty like most teens would. It was a statement. In fact, it was the un-angsty-ness of her voice that made me look at her…REALLY look at her. She was wise beyond her years and she wore all of her wisdom in the deep, mysterious onyx pools of her eyes. Her eyes told the tale of a girl far older than the age of eighteen. She began to weave her tale as to why she may be missing prom and why she had missed the last three weeks of school.
Her mother had been very ill and she was responsible for taking care of her mother, Sara* continued…she said her mother had Cervical Cancer, Bells Palsey, and Rheumatoid Arthritis…and her mother is only thirty-six! WOW! Then Sara said that due to the severity of her illnesses, her mother has been preparing her and her two younger sisters for her possible, impending death.
Oh…but WAIT…it gets worse!
Sara has to move out of the three-bedroom apartment she shares with her mother, step-father, two younger sisters, a dog, and a cat…their rent is subsidized so they only pay $87.00…and Sara says that the Section 8 Housing reps make regular check-ups to ensure that no one eighteen or older is living in the apartment while not either in school or employed. Currently, Sara is neither of the two.
After that, my ears were lit with information I never knew any eighteen-year-old to know of…Sara’s biological father is in jail, soon to be released – he was incarcerated because he snapped the neck of a man who was in the act of attempting rape on Sara. Sara said that her father will be released within one month. Sara spoke very strongly of taking care of her family and assuming her mother’s role as caretaker…she admitted that she has already stepped in several times (unbeknownst to her mother) and provided monetary largesse. Sara said that between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, she sold drugs and would place a large percentage of her earnings in her mother’s purse when her mother was not paying attention…Sara said that it was easy for her to get away with selling drugs when she was younger because police officers never took her seriously…she said she looked nine or ten when she was thirteen.
As the tales of her enthralling life began to wind down, and the time for the end school approached, I asked Sara the one question that was burning within me.
“In retrospect of everything you have said here today about your life…How does education fit onto your list of things-that-are-important?”
She did not hesitate to answer, “Education is my only way out. I will be the only person in my family, except for my younger sisters, to graduate from high school and get a diploma…And I don’t plan on stopping with that! After getting my diploma, I want to go to massage therapy school, and then to college to get my degree.”
I nodded my head in silence. I was humbled by the tone of motivation I detected in her voice…she reminded me of WHY I wanted to work in the inner-city. I wanted/expected to meet students like her…people who WANTED help to help themselves. Sara is the anomaly.
…And to think I thought I had it bad…
*Names have been changed to protect identity.