“We’ll hire you but I suppose you want in the northwest schools, so I’m not sure just where you will be placed,” so said the personnel director.
“No,” I replied, “I have a sociology degree and I am interested in teaching in the distressed zones.” (I really don’t know what we called those areas in the sixties – disadvantaged, low socioeconomic, poverty?)
His attitude perked up and he was on the phone pronto with two principles, send me out immediately for an interview. The first one signed me on to teach a combination third/fourth grade class. I can’t tell you much about the racial makeup except that there were no blacks. The blacks were in the neighboring school district – other side of the bridge they had to cross to get to school. One boy was killed on that bridge. I don’t remember the particulars; I guess a car hit him. Good kid. I don’t think he was likely to have been “horsing around.”
Those two community schools were combined in 1966, I think, my second year of teaching. Students were a little older. I think fourth and fifth graders. There was conflict – not in a physical way, but in the way conflict is caused by an enforced law. My opinion is that the blacks did not want to give up their neighborhood school and be forced to be outside their comfort zone – tossed into an unknown sea.
I was overly conciliatory, trying to prove myself to them. I ended up in tears. I’m forever thankful for a black principal who asked me a question which was very insightful – “Why are you putting up with what is going on?” He then reamed me out a bit and sent me back to my classroom. 😀
That initial encounter was summer session When regular school started in September, I had a class of students many of whom I will never forget. This brings to mind a girl who left a note on my desk. I found it after school. It said, “We know you love us.” What an insightful child! At the age when all kids write “I love you” or “Do you love me.” I wonder how she knew I needed that. I’m sure I did not verbalize that.
Over the 17 years I had heartbreak.
A boy who killed his father with a vacuum hose. I don’t think he served any time. Mostly because he did it because his father was beating his mother.
A boy who stabbed a girls hand with a pencil – he committed suicide when he was about fifteen, tied a cinder block on his leg and jumped out of a boat.
A boy who arrived at school with dog feces on his back thrown by other children. I visited him in jail a few years later. He had killed someone over a drug deal of some kind. He remembered me.
A boy whose burned body was found in a motel bathtub. He had fake ID on him. Someone apparently thought they would fool the police.
A boy who said out of the blue, “Teacher, what would you do if you were robbing a house and the police came?” Upon my answer he said, “That’s not what my dad said. He said to run because the police wouldn’t shoot a boy in the back.”
A girl whom I encountered as I served as Asst Chaplain in the county jail. She was badly beaten. I recognized her name; she remembered me. I told her I was surprised to see her in jail. She told me she started drugs when she was twelve which led to the guy who she lived with; the one who beat her up. She was moved up to trustee then released. I saw her about three weeks later. Again beaten up by the same guy who did it the first time.
A fourth grader who was pregnant. link
And the little one who left me the note? Yes, I found out about her online. She has a string of drug arrests. I’m so sorry, Baby Girl. I wish I could have protected you.
Whites – Browns – Blacks
As I sit here with tears running, do you possibly believe I care to which race these children belonged? Do you care about their race? I could tell you if it is important. I’m sure you agree, it is of the least importance! But there were some of each.
HEARTBREAK. But nothing to do with race.
A child is a child. Precious, vulnerable, and needing love, every one of them.
Yes, they are. And teachers are “first responders” to many of them. Thanks.
Tears here as well.
Your stories bring so many of my own back to the forefront of thought.
There were many heartbreaks over the years…deaths, suicides, murders, robberies, abuse, drugs…and of course there were the good stories as well.
But it’s the harder stories that seem to linger and pop back up first.
Teaching is a vocation Oneta.
Not merely a job.
You knew that then just as you know that now.
Someone once told me that if we can smile at our students, despite the frustrations or sneers turned back our way…that just might be the only smile that kid sees that day.
May we continue smiling!
Yes, long live the smile. The negative stories are the ones that make the newspapers. I do have some more successful stories – surprising stories I will be sharing later. Thanks, Julie.
Oneta, why I do not see your posts on my reader any more? I had to go and look at your site to see that you are posting again. Not sure what’s the issue with WP.
I don’t know, Pranab. I didn’t post much in July, but I haven’t changed anything. I’ve been seeing a lot of complaints about WP; hopefully they will get things lined up. I’m just about to turn in for the evening but noticed you in the lineup. So you are the last for my day. I’m sort of glad you weren’t sparring. 😀 I’m tired, besides that I want to read my book before going to sleep.
Good night Oneta.
Not sure what else I am missing in WP. Had happened once before but after few months came back to normal. Not sure what is the issue though.
At the time those things may have seemed out of control. Today they bring regret for not having done enough to help these precious young ones, but God had a reason for placing you there at just that moment. You may never know how much you impacted their lives in a positive way. The negative often overshadows and positive influence. God knows and He knew then what was necessary for those children – you!
Yes, I know those years were in God’s plan for me and for them. As with others we know and love, we must place our trust in Him as we act as a link for that time in their lives. I think in God’s good pleasure, we seldom see seed sown, watered, and harvested by the same person. It generally takes many workers to help seed to grow and mature. Thank you.
A very insightful post. Thank you. My husband was the school teacher in our family and I went into different schools for thirty years and I taught Religious Instruction. In my day it was definitely the way of the Cross and all about Jesus Christ who came not to make ‘another’ religion but to be the WAY. Many of the students were of mixed races but like you said children are simply children and I loved them ALL. One irate mother came to me one day because her child won an award for behaviour and great work. ‘Jesus Christ is a white man’s God’ she screamed. He’s not our God’.
Amazing how things have changed through the years. That child grew up and now is a Christian Ambassador for the first nation people here in Oz. I’m certain Oneta that what you have given with your love to the children will have eternal value. Blessings. and Peace!
Love your story. It is true that we as teachers can only serve for the space of time we are given. True even for our own children. Thanks, Faye.
This reminds me of some stuff teachers are dealing with now. my cousin is a school teacher she tells me stuff like how kids are so mean and how kids disrespect there parents. Some kids go to school and talk about committing suicided. I think this blog is really good. Thank you
I believe it is much worse now than it was when I taught. I haven’t taught in public school for about 35 years or more. Depression and suicidal talk was mostly unheard of in those days. Thanks, Sueann, for your comment.
My daughter in law is a first grade teacher. By the way she talks about her job I can tell it is a calling for her. She and my son visit students who are struggling. They bring groceries to families of her students when she can tell there is not enough food in the house. And she loves every one of those kids…the ones who behave and the ones who do not. And she cries when they leave for second grade. I am pretty sure you were the same kind of teacher Oneta…..one of the great ones.
I sure did love it while I was in it! Love the calling. Your son and wife sound like very special people.