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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Inner-City Teaching

Talking about this has been a long time coming and it’s something that I have been questioned about many times over the last year – especially when interacting with so many teachers/bloggers/creators.  First of all, I am an elementary teacher at a charter school in downtown Detroit, MI.  Saying I teach IN Detroit often leaves a certain kind of look on someone’s face, but before we make any judgments, let me explain.  I love my job!  Is it stressful?  Yeah, I’m a teacher!  Am I faced with circumstances that are unique or different from those outside of inner-city teaching?  Absolutely.  However, none of these things have ever made me consider leaving my job.  I am going into my third year at the school I am at and I am excited to start the new school year and meet my new kids!’

Teaching inner-city is not for everyone and I know that.  I can’t say that I ever imagined myself teaching downtown, but I always knew the demographics I wanted to work in.  Poverty and inequality have always plagued my mind.  Even as a child, I didn’t understand why these things existed or why they still have to.  That feeling, or that spark, is part of what drove me into the desire for teaching students that come from low-income communities.  I could get into statistics and numbers about what the outcomes typically are for these kids, but this isn’t a college course and I’ve already written that paper.  

I'm sure we've all heard the popular Gandhi quote, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."  It's always been a favorite of mine - I even had this phrase on a pair of TOMS at one point in time.  Such a simple concept pushed me to where I am today.  I don't like the idea of knowing something exists and not doing anything about it. It's a constant internal battle not to speak my mind sometimes!  While in college though, I really started thinking about kids who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds and the statistics in the paper I previously mentioned.  I couldn't help but ask myself, "How do I see change if I'm not part of making the change?"  It's as simple as that.  If I want these kids to have a better future or outcome, I want to be a part of getting them there.

My students come from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Believe me, they aren't all bad!  However, with inner-city teaching, there are students who don't have a consistent place where they feel safe, secure, welcomed, and sometimes even loved.  One of the best parts of my job is that I get to be a part of that place for my students.  Sometimes students see a loved one get killed, sometimes students are homeless, or sometimes students are just struggling with a million little things at home and I can make our room the place where all of that goes away.  Is that an easy task?  Nope!  However, it's part of the challenge and struggle (see below).

I have taught in the suburbs and it was great and fun, but it was just different.  Was it easier?  Oh yeah.  The kids are different in inner-city areas.  They have a spark and personality like none I've ever seen.  There are times it can drive you crazy, but more times than less, it's the greatest thing in the world to me.  They have an appreciation for opportunities and being exposed to things for the first time that I've never seen in other kids.  Many of my students are mini-adults and have adult personalities.  Pulling them from that cloud and back down to kid land is tough, but so rewarding when they get there.  Are my kids a little wild?  Yeah, but they aren't bad kids.  Most don't have the fun play dates in the park or sidewalks to run down and play tag on.  That desire and energy for play has to go somewhere.  Is my classroom loud?  Almost always.  And almost always it's perfectly fine with me.

This is my favorite part!  I was a social studies major in college and I am still fascinated with history, geography, cultures...you name it!  I'm in!  I love studying people and the ways they do things.  Working in an urban environment provides me with the chances to learn so much about so many different cultures.  I have always been fortunate this way though.  Living in the Detroit area provides the opportunity to be exposed in a cultural melting pot.  It's great and I embrace learning more about anyone or anything I can.  We even study local cultures and beyond in my classroom - that's how important celebrating diversity it is to me!  Intolerance often comes from a lack of understanding and exposure.

I'm sure some people love that easy breezy lifestyle, but it's just not for me.  I like to be challenged and I'm the kind of person that when told "I can't," I am determined to prove that "I can!"  Each day in my classroom is a challenge.  I don't think that's a bad thing though.  I face struggles that most teachers do, but there are added bits and pieces of interesting moments that always make me say "Wait...what?"  I had another teacher (from another state) say, "Oh, don't do that, have parent volunteers do it!"  I instantly wanted to reply with the laughing/cry face emoji because I do not know what that is.  I've never had that happen.  If I can get a working phone number, I'm pretty excited about it.  If I can get 25% of the class to bring in their school supplies, I'm pretty excited about it - that means I only have to buy for the rest of them and not the WHOLE class.  The struggle is VERY real.  Should I have to buy supplies, shoes, clothes, etc. for my students?  Maybe not, but sometimes they need it and when it comes to items that go home with kids - I always check with parents first.  I don't want to overstep boundaries, but ultimately I am there to help my students in every way I possibly can.


See?  It's not so bad!  It's actually really wonderful!  I don't have to worry about being laid off at the end of every year and I'm not told at the end of the summer I'm going to be teaching a different grade.  I don't have the stresses that many teachers do because their administration doesn't engage that conversation first. I LOVE that and I love my administration for that.  I have a principal who is so easy to talk to about anything.  She's wonderful and she supports her teachers. Do I love everything in my school?  No, but who does?  Do I agree with everything in my curriculum?  No, but who does?

A college professor once told me that teaching one year inner-city is like five years in the suburbs.  Maybe she was right, but I don't feel like I've been teaching that long.  It's hard work, but for those people who really want to be the change, I highly recommend you try it.  

A couple great articles on inner-city teaching to get you thinking!

Survive and Thrive: Why Some Inner-City Teachers Don't Leave

A Day in the Life of an Inner-City School Teacher

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