Most teachers gain their inspiration from the desire to give back to the community and invest in the potential of youth. But this is just the starting point. Noble intentions aren’t nearly enough.
You can’t just announce yourself as the saviour of impressionable children and expect it all to fall into place. You have to have the patience, dynamism, determination and communication skills that great teachers have. You have to overcome bad lessons, days, weeks and terms and move on. You’ve got to innovate, because your students are already sick of the “norm”, they need and expect more from a teacher they are going to appreciate.
And you can’t expect them to respect you just because you see more in them than they do in themselves. Kids don’t like being told they are wasting their life any more than adults do. Being preached to by somebody that professes to know you and thinks you are wasting your potential doesn’t always inspire. Sometimes it does the opposite.
I haven’t read Ed Boland’s book yet, but I predict that whilst its sarcasm against the public school system is perceptive and enlightening, it will be light on self criticism:
IN 2008, Ed Boland, a well-off New Yorker who had spent 20 years as an executive at a non-profit, had a midlife epiphany: He should leave his white-glove world, the galas at the Waldorf and drinks at the Yale Club, and go work with the city’s neediest children.
The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School is Boland’s memoir of his brief, harrowing tenure as a public-schoolteacher, and it’s riveting.
There’s nothing dry or academic here. It’s tragedy and farce, an economic and societal indictment of a system that seems broken beyond repair.
The book is certain to be controversial. There’s something dilettante-ish, if not cynical, about a well-off, middle-aged white man stepping ever so briefly into this maelstrom of poverty, abuse, homelessness and violence and emerging with a book deal.
What Boland has to share, however, makes his motives irrelevant.
Names and identifying details have been changed, but the school Boland calls Union Street is, according to clues and public records, the Henry Street School of International Studies on the Lower East Side.
Boland opens the book with a typical morning in freshman history class.
A teenage girl named Chantay sits on top of her desk, thong peeking out of her pants, leading a ringside gossip session. Work sheets have been distributed and ignored.
“Chantay, sit in your seat and get to work — now!” Boland says.
A calculator goes flying across the room, smashing into the blackboard. Two boys begin physically fighting over a computer. Two girls share an iPod, singing along. Another girl is immersed in a book called Thug Life 2.
Chantay is the one that aggravates Boland the most. If he can get control of her, he thinks, he can get control of the class.
“Chantay,” he says, louder, “sit down immediately, or there will be serious consequences.”
The classroom freezes. Then, as Boland writes, “she laughed and cocked her head up at the ceiling. Then she slid her hand down the outside of her jeans to her upper thigh, formed a long cylinder between her thumb and forefinger, and shook it. She looked me right in the eye and screamed, ‘SUCK MY F***IN’ D***, MISTER.’”
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