Saturday, May 21, 2016

Schooled


(Published by Temple Independent School District on August 15, 2016)


When you're becoming a teacher, one of the things you're required to do before student teaching is your practicum, a field-based experience where you're supposed to get your first taste of the classroom. I was assigned to Carver Estates Youth Program in Delray Beach, Florida. Carver Estates was a run-down, public housing project where some of the most economically disadvantaged residents in Palm Beach County lived. 

Located about 10 minutes from the ocean, Carver Estates was so devastated when Hurricane Wilma blew through town in 2005 that it was deemed uninhabitable and nearly 200 families were evicted from their homes. It was completely demolished in 2008, just five years after I completed my practicum. Now, the land is home to a new low-income apartment complex called Village Square.

When I showed up for my first day, I was expecting desks, books, four walls, and a whiteboard with Expo markers, but what I got was something entirely different. The classroom was a basketball court. Instead of desks and books, we had park benches and lessons in how to talk smack. The kids wanted to know everything about me. They wanted me to know everything about them. They wanted to touch me and smell me and hug me. 

I was definitely out of my comfort zone.

Attoriana showed me some cool new dance moves and how she could jump rope. Keion taught me the latest slang. I listened to Cassandra's life story as she twisted and braided my hair.  It was fun, but I couldn't figure out why on earth I had been sent to this place to hang out with these kids. What could this experience possibly have to do with education and preparing me to be a teacher?

Fast forward to my classroom fifteen years later...

All of those memories from my field-experience come flooding back to me every time Sharish runs her fingers through my hair and asks for a rubber band so she can put it in an updo. When Tanijah asks if I like her new body spritz as she mists some of it on me. When Kanchan throws her arms around me to give me a great big hug. When Melanie dishes about her current boyfriend situation. When Anthony asks how he should ask his girlfriend to the prom. When Tre brings me cupcakes he made in culinary class that he says I just have to try. 

So much of teaching is about this. 

Allowing them to push you out of your comfort zone and them learning to trust you enough to let you into their world. The building of relationships. The sharing of secrets and cupcakes and body spritz. 

Some of them accidentally call me mom sometimes. Some of them call me that on purpose. They come to me for help with other classes. They come to me when they need advice. They come to me when they are in trouble. They come to me when they are in tears. 

This is all part of being a good teacher. 

I didn't have the wherewithal to realize it back then, but those kids at Carver Estates did prepare me to be a teacher. That experience was invaluable. They were my books. I went there thinking that I would be teaching them something.

As it turns out, I was the one who got schooled.

  
Carver Estates Squad 

  
Me, Cassandra, and Attoriana 

Gettin' My Hair Did  



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